A Call to Winter Lovers

On a cloudy day in late December, I find the whitened blue-gray of winter distances soothing. The tree-covered hills of Middle Tennessee, bowed like the backs of ancient wanderers huddling on the edge of town, work a strange, restful magic on the eyes. And then the early dusk: how the blue-gray deepens; how the ends of bare limbs silhouette into thousands of gnarled and knobby fingers, heaving here-and-there in the brashness of bitter breezes–the kinds of breezes we’re never dressed for, so we hurry from the car to the great indoors, where our bones ache a few minutes more.

All these things conspire to the mystery of winter. I know no dread of a long night, only the embrace of a cavernous, comfortable dark, one that welcomes introverted sojourning, where I cocoon myself in flannel and plaid and lamplight. Winter makes many think of death, but doesn’t it also somehow make you feel more alive? Is it because I was born in January, that I have this drive?

Our Tennessee cold spells never last long; perhaps if I had a Michigan address, winter would be more of an inconvenience. But for now, living as I do in the humid South, I get excited when I hear the temperature is dropping. Will anyone else claim this?

Where My Head Lately Is

The present ache is not physical, but metaphysical perhaps, meaning that the symptoms are likelier to be furrowed brows and drawn-out silences than anything requiring Ibuprofen. It seems to come, this ache, from an overabundance of existence. Do you know what it means for existence to feel like a burden? Not in a depressive way (though it can go there), but in an overwhelming way—a feeling that’s not really an emotion, yet is still big to the point of restlessness, when all you can do is stare into nondescript places and try not to embarrass yourself by spazzing out in public.

So I drive and stare straight ahead as if wearing blinders, aware of the gray-brown treescape falling away on both sides, but not needing to look at it. All is a soothing, comforting gray. Even the noises are gray. More and more, these days, I want to leave the radio off. Coasting down I-65, I feel, oftener with age, a compulsion to quietness—a need to listen to the road sounds: tires at high speed; the double-knock of wheels over changing pavements; the motor’s quiet roar and the thin, dry clicking of my vents on low. Rounding a curve or banging through a pothole, a loose thing in the back loses footing and topples against the inside of the car, sounding like an animal trapped and pawing for escape.

When I listen like this, I think I’m getting closer to the texture of existence—the part we lose from being on auto-pilot; the part we drown in music or conversation. Listening when there’s not much to listen to: this is a valid way to center oneself. And I’m the type that needs frequent centering.

My Nerudian Ode

I wrote an ode in the style of Pablo Neruda–short lines, straightforward language, celebratory of something.  My ode celebrates the pre-dawn.

 

 

Ode to the Pre-dawn

 

Nightly mystery

and portent of dawn,

both are yours—

a residue of terror,

filtered down and

swirled with hope.

You wrap the back deck

in autumn’s first chill,

and fill the air with

the sharp whir of tree frogs,

thrumming in choral refrain.

You dabble in glows—

my studio lamps,

drawing me downstairs;

the inward glow of coffee’s

aroma and gift of heat;

soda-lit parking lots

silhouetting trunks;

blackish-purple horizon,

washing out toward town,

clouds absorbing city lights

in a sooty, diffuse orange—

backlighting the cedar spires

that rise from the waterway.

The deep, metallic buzz

of neighboring HVAC units

lends a bass rumble

to the pre-dawn chorus.

Stars flicker

in their final watches.

An unseen smoker

hijacks the air.

How can one little cigarette

supplant all other smells?

Back indoors, only I stir,

wrapped in caution,

muffling every sound

so that this fragile,

pre-dawn stillness

does not shatter.

 

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