with apologies to the shade of John Ciardi
As the first flakes are caught in streetlight-glimmer,
you gasp: Lovely! Your gasping throat still raw,
the truth grips like catarrh: a Midwest winter
beautiful? Like a left hook to the jaw,
the knuckled, scraping wait for spring’s mud-brown.
You bend your mind to months of hunkering down.
You gasp. Lovely? Your gasping throat still raw,
outward you bound to boisterous winter sports!
Thrill to the wind chill! (When will the fingers thaw?)
Joy! when the frozen stiffs stagger indoors!
(And what in this routine vaguely recalls
old saws that feature banging, and heads, and walls?)
The truth grips like catarrh: a Midwest winter
makes short work of its fairy tale. Snow-white
soils itself on plows. Ice-daggers splinter,
murder-minding the pavement. Ice-dams blight
cold attics. Traffic slogs and spins awry.
The bus slings up a wad of slush at an eye.
Unbeautiful. Like a left hook to the jaw—
except those fugitive seconds of pure peace:
Silence of evening shoveling, when you saw
that famous moonlight. Snow sculpting the trees.
Benches, fences slathered like wedding cakes.
Streetlights. Indigo dark, and the clean flakes.
The knuckled, scraping wait for spring’s mud-brown
craves every beauty bagged in the tangled mind
for cold-comfort. Sucks the marrowbone
of song. Tongues at old poems jarred and brined
like olives. Hears the orchard, shiver-thinned,
keen to itself: the sweep of easy wind….
You bend your mind to months of hunkering down:
You load the chafing dish. You light the sterno.
You heat the buttered rum. You cannot drown
your memory of those stanzas from the Inferno
at the tale-end of the terza rima spell
where Hell is cold. Where cold is the heart of Hell.
The University of Evansville Press