Words on the Winter Wind

Winter Haiku

As many of you know, I write poetry and am fairly active in literary circles. I have hosted poetry readings in Hartington’s Library, participated in a poetry contest here in Yankton. (I won) I even wrote an article for the Newspaper when the Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, came to read at Mount Marty. In addition to those, every year I am invited to Words on the Winter Wind, a reading held by the Nebraska Writer’s Workshop and hosted by the Baright Library in Ralston, Nebraska.

This year’s reading occurred just over a week ago, and I thought I might share two of the poems I presented this year. I hope you enjoy them, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Snowman

I met him on my walk

About the neighborhood.

He wore his hat and grey jacket

Of dust, some dirt, and leaves

With careless flair, while one

Twiggy arm pointed skyward,

And the other sagged to the ground

In a familiar polarity.


Even so, his eyes of coal

Held a sparkling, black glint,

Like he’d just recalled

A childhood memory

That served to warm his heart

On these days when life’s pains

Drifted high in seeming permanence.


He canted dangerously to one side;

His small, defective bottom almost

Unable to hold his ample middle

Or his tilted head and hat.

The children who made him

Must have forgotten about

His bottom side in their rush

In the same way I wished

To forget about mine.


I passed close and caught his gaze.

My tilted smile mirrored his tilted hat;

We traded silent pleasantries.

The sunlight lit his eyes for a moment,

and in them I felt our warm accord.

“See you tomorrow.” I said.

Then briefly waved and stepped

Around the corner into the wind

Toward home.

Winter II
Photo by Michael Helgerson


Winter Siren

In January, a siren of silence calls

Me every morning until

I don my coat and boots and cap

To walk the wooded windbrake

Between the North and me,

Where jointed reeds rake across

A contrailed sky–

Crooked fingers on guitar strings

Plucking pale white tones

That settle on the switch grass

As feathery ice.


My labored breath billows

Into smoke, sinking down

To settle around my cold

And heavy feet, until

Soon, I am held still

In an impotent immobility,

Eyes frozen

On everything offered here:

The ringing fullness of prairie earth

Suckling the morning;

The snow top hieroglyphs

Of wings, claws, and feet;

Downy, sunlit frost molting

From trees like fairies.


Here, rooted in this moment,

I want for nothing more.

The winter siren’s sing

The song of now and that

Is where–I live.


Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?


It’s a new year, and for me at least, it seems that here at the beginning of our solar merry-go-round, I find myself looking back along the arc of our planet’s past orbit. What am I hoping to see? To be metaphorical, I’m looking for what I myself have been orbiting. What I’ve done with my resources, how have those actions improved my life and the lives of my loved ones, and has my life’s work continued to nurture what I value?  Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?

This is very important to me.

Just like you, I only have a limited amount of time, energy, and attentiveness. Those are the foundational resources of my life, of everyone’s life, and I want to invest them well and wisely.  I strive to make sure I use those resources in places that advance my dreams and keep my spirit lifted. I want to use them in places where I feel like I’m respected and valued, and where the accomplishments I achieve advance not only me, but others as well. Instead of being, as Meghan Trainor sings, “all about that bass,” I’m all about that service and that is my primary orbit.

Every segment of my life, as delineated by my occupations, has been in some way about service: twenty years in the military, going to college and becoming a teacher, guiding people in the outdoors, being a trainer. All of these are service occupations. That’s what I love to do.

In the new year, I am also looking ahead for what new orbit can I place my service in or what can I do to improve what I am currently doing.  The finger I keep on the pulse of the fitness industry is feeling out new ways for people to reach deeper within themselves and discover the pathways for reaching their dreams. And those dreams are not really about looking good. They are about being healthy, more energetic, happier, and more adventurous. These are all things I want I want my solar system of self and loved ones to revolve around, and I find that living a healthy life is a way to gain them.

Which brings up an unusual point. People see me as a personal trainer and often think that exercise is the central orbit of my life, but that isn’t true. Exercise is not one of my orbits, nor does it fulfill my life—it is a means to living fully. The way I want to live and the achievements I want to leave behind as a memorial, are not direct results of my exercise, eating and sleep habits. Those are tools that create a body more capable of achieving my dreams.

Something wonderful
What’s going to happen? Something wonderful.

During this Year’s infancy, I urge everyone to move beyond their habits, and turn their attention to the values they have chosen to orbit. The why’s behind their hopes and dreams. Take the poet, Rainer Rilke’s, famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a pilgrim’s spirit:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of fluidity? To be comfortable with uncertainty is to gain a great peace.
• What is my next challenge in daring to grow as a human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What new creation waits to be born in and through me?

Once your eye turns inward, you can begin to discover the values behind your orbits. “How do I spend my time? Why do I value spending it in that way? When did I give so much meaning to food? Why? When did I give so much value to watching TV? Sporting events?” Seriously ask, “Is it really necessary? Is the way I spend my time good for me and my family? Does it keep me from my dreams?  Answering these questions are as important, if not more important, than a gym membership or changing your diet. Discover what you’re orbiting and why. The answers are what will keep your diet, exercise, and health, permanent.