A profound cold stills our world for a few days, narrows our lives. All night on Friday, the wind screams and howls. By Saturday afternoon, the wind drops. I ski out to the river. The air is broken glass, so sharp breathing hurts.
To celebrate my oldest daughter’s birthday, we eat at a little restaurant/bar in Plainfield where I haven’t been in fifteen years. We’re at a back table so cold that the other three keep on their jackets and I note the usefulness of my handknit sweater. This observation impresses no one except myself. My daughter orders a drink with a lemon peel. The food is scrumptious, rich with garlic.
In their zipped-up jackets, side by side, my daughters talk and laugh with their ongoing story that includes frozen pipes, getting lost, a red prom dress, what happens when a car is started at 27 below zero, and the IRS. Outside, a round moon is ringed with yellow luminescence, so brilliant the sky around the moon is blue, surrounded by night’s black. Our boots crunch over ice as we list the moon’s might: tides and weather, childbirth and madness, the beauty of moonbeams.
In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head.
All week, people have been dropping in at work, with ideas and needs and so much school board talk. A stranger dropped in yesterday and mentioned she expected to become a grandmother that day, possibly the next. Candlemas, the ancient festival, forty days after Christmas and its official end. February 3 marks my own holy day, the day my oldest joined us in the world and I crossed over into motherhood.
In labor, I walked outside in Birkenstocks and stared at the melting snow that was running in sunny trickles. Just days after she was born, a fierce cold sunk in to stay. The neighbors brought a blueberry pie. As a toddler, I called this child a wildcat. Now, all grown up, she’s still a cat, with a cat’s complexities — half-feral and blissfully domestic, fierce-clawed and loving.
With worry edging her voice, the stranger told me she expected her family’s birth to be healthy. These usually go well, she noted. I agreed, and we walked out together. The wind carried dry snow over the parking lot. She disappeared in her car, but I stood for a moment longer, remembering my daughter was born shortly before midnight. My long labor ended with a surgeon who held my vernix-smeared baby in his gloved hands so I could see her. Her eyes were wide open, and she looked directly at me.
listen, you a wonder. you a city of a woman. you got a geography of your own.
Walking into town, I pass a house that has been abandoned for the five years I’ve lived here. Last winter, a vehicle skidded off the road and smashed through the front window. Since then, plywood has covered the front.
There’s a few houses like this in that neighborhood, the paint gray, the windows filthy, tiny yards gone over to weeds or dirt. In the pandemic’s craze, people moved back into a few of these, converting abandoned places into homes again. The driver of a fuel truck stood outside this house yesterday with a young couple, the three of them talking seriously, nodding heads. Sheets of foam insulation leaned against the house. On the side wall, someone had ripped off the dirty plastic and exposed a large square window, its top edge red and blue stained glass. Without stopping, I wondered what else was inside the house.
End of January — and suddenly the sunlight returned in full force. Today may be cloudy, tomorrow, too, maybe for days to come, but the earth is tilting. Slow as spring is, we’re leaning that way.
Wild Mind, Wild Earth — David Hinton’s book is exquisitely beautiful and certainly not a feel-good book. It’s a book where poetry is motion. On this cold January day, snow begins falling midday, little bits, then steady showers as dusk filters in. I stand outside the library, my head tipped back. An acquaintance, on his way in, pauses. “Remember this?” he asks. “It’s winter.”
Robes of snow, crests of snow, and beaks of azure-jade, they fish in shadowy streams. Then starting up into
flight, they leave emerald mountains for lit distances. Pear blossoms, a tree-full, tumble in the evening wind.
On a Wednesday washed out of color, this mid-January has the taste of February, wet, the wind wicking up wildly then dropping down again to the sodden snow. January is the season of work, of leaning in hard to a task at hand, for pleasure, for wage, for cleanliness, for the way work sweeps us out, makes something new. In its own way, winter’s short, pinwheeling along to spring, to the radiance of summer.
Here’s a perfect poem for today.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
Mid-January, the earth is covered with ice and a crunchy snow a few inches deep. The meditative qualities of walking are swallowed up by fear of slipping or the grinding of hard snow beneath boots. People complain. Complaining is a normal winter’s activity, so are ice and snow, and yet — I’ll reiterate for what seems like the hundredth time again — we’ve slipped out of the cog of normalcy.
What I do:
I finish painting the bathroom (one Sunshine wall, the others Vanilla Ice Cream).
I’m diligent at my work.
My daughter and I go out for coffee, struggle through the CSS profile on financial forms, talk and talk and circle around.
I rise early every morning and rewrite my novel, snip, stitch, elaborate, with my imagination and my hands. In the night, I wake and lay more wood on the fire, pieces of my life arising in words: loons and dahlias and betrayal and desire.