A friend once explained that Minnesota winters last just six weeks. October doesn’t count because it’s still fall. November usually doesn’t get that cold and besides Thanksgiving happens and the holidays begin. If it snows and grows cold during the holidays, who cares? Most of us would prefer that anyway. Winter really begins a week or so into January and lasts until near the end of February. By then it’s almost March and snow doesn’t stick around much. Then comes April, which is spring.
Self-deception becomes an increasingly valuable talent as one grows older. This issue of the Poetry Project includes vignettes of wintry scenes, reminiscences of past seasons and earlier times, metaphysical speculations, a dog on the way to Canterbury, lots of love and an ode to a taco.
Enjoy. Stay Warm. Keep writing.
Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor of the Southwest Journal.
For Women Who Love Ice
James P. Lenfestey
For Patricia, who grew up on skates
and who took my wife by the hand
around islands and under bridges.
For Martha with her hockey stick
out there with the guys under lights
banging off the boards and ripping the net.
For Amy, whose day job affects
the whole earth, who glides at night
over black ice in reverie with no fear.
For Jan, who sends racing blades
crossing one over the other,
hands clasped behind, wishing
she were who she is now.
For Sue, who fell in love with her body
at the community rink — every winter
when it was flooded she became herself,
the person she has looked for ever since.
For Grace, who twirls alone.
The Last Warm Night
After making love
we lie on the bed
in the dark
under the barely moving fan
waves of headlights
washing up on the walls.
Will this moment
become a memory?
Like your dream
of a frightened horse
in muddy water
will we forget
even the idea of perfection
and leave it
undisturbed for others
as others have for us?
Lake Superior is cold tonight,
the sunset sprawled over the water
with the first oranges and reds of fall.
The drive up north in 89-degree heat:
One-lane traffic snaking through Duluth.
sore throb in my arms and hands,
my neck, my head
a wreck, like lead.
My nerves shoot pins and needles
around my previously healthy —
and much taken-for-granted — body.
Once at the cabin, I rest.
By morning, it all changes
from crisp to cold to frost warning.
The leaves dipped in color
like tips of paint brushes.
When winter comes early,
we are never ready.
You and I work side by side,
lifting petunia pinwheels of purples and pinks,
from the flower boxes.
The heft of the dirt
weightier than imagined.
Strangle of vines
grown over the outside porch
dragged to the inside office,
now a haven for plants
and other things too early to die.
Years have rolled over each other,
become decades. We are both older.
Yet, some days, little has changed.
I look out: It’s all still there:
sunrise, trees bent over the cold lake,
the shimmer of moonlight quiet on black water.
Thank you for getting me here
over such a long distance.
Thank you for taking me
such a very long way.
Taco al Pastor at Taqueria La Hacienda
If a pig the size of the sun
were to collapse upon itself
no space between
pig electron and
the densest conceivable pig
and this pig were to be placed
upon a tortilla with
lime, onion, cilantro and salsa
this would be that pig.
The Boxer (after Geoffrey Chaucer)
Then last in line with lead and collar came
A puppy dog that didn’t have a name
As brown and white and fine as he could be
’Twas the shortest yet to visit Canterbury.
Flat of snout and quick to make delay
Knew nothing of his company that day
Nor of their goal of Holy Fantasy
Or the Blessed Savior they had come to see.
Preoccupied in thinking when to choose
And how to attack that evil pair of shoes
Or which direction had the most to see
Or smell or taste… or where was a tree?
Then round and round he chased his stub behind
As we poor mortals do circle blind
When if we could but find the proper Tree
We’d put aside our daily cares and pee.
If There Is a God
If there is a god
You can find her in the badlands
Of South Dakota
She will appear at sunrise
In the form of a grain of sand.
If there is a god
You can find him on a bus
In Gdansk, Poland
He will be in the coat pocket
Of an old woman with a shopping bag.
If there is a god
You will find its essence
Deep within yourself
And you will know it is there
With every heartbeat, with every breath.
The Age of Wood
Kitchen match electric snap
and flare of flame
Grandpa draws on his briar pipe
with dignified urgency
province of pipe smokers,
Snap, crackle, Mom’s pop
turns on the radio
one way sound track from Bad Axe
news with the aroma of tobacco
a rainy forecast drifts by
on whirls of smoke
peers through his lacquered oval window
his solemn gaze
masks the envy of the dead
for the pleasures of the living
his longing for tobacco
the vile cuspidor
the broad armed rocker
with blue flowered vines
In a stolen moment
I glimpse the four poster
heavy as the burdens of farm life
dark with the forbidden pleasures of sex
by bright laughter Grandma sewed
into the panels of the quilt.
Cables: A Love Story
The cable came on a December morning
and my mother felt the fear rush through her
as all the women did:
in wartime a cable was never good news.
But the war was over: the Western Union boy
was not a Navy officer on death duty.
UNDER GOLDEN GATE FIRST WEEK JAN STOP
MEET ME STOP WILL BOOK HOTEL STOP
My mother took the cable down to the high school,
stopped at the library and told her sister,
stopped at his office and told her father,
stopped by the station to check train schedules.
This small town Ohio girl, my mother, had left home
only once — to marry my father, the Lieutenant, in Florida.
He had cabled then too:
HOW ABOUT A WEDDING AT CHRISTMAS STOP
Not the most eloquent of proposals, but
she trusted him. She went.
She left for San Francisco, cold on the station platform,
the train puffing steam. My grandfather hugged her
and sent her off, alone. Not enough money for a sleeper,
she sat the whole way among GIs going home.
She rode in the dark to Cincinnati, then to Chicago,
caught the Empire Builder
that took her through Wisconsin, to St. Paul,
then across the northern plains and through the mountains.
She had received another cable before she left:
TOP OF THE MARK STOP
TUESDAY 5PM STOP LOVE STOP
My father, the XO on a destroyer escort
that had rolled in blue water for three years,
was among the last to leave the South Pacific.
When they reached the States, it was foggy,
the big, orange bridge just a gray shadow above them.
“Don’t hit it,” he remembered thinking,
“After all this time, don’t hit the god dam Golden Gate.”
He wore his dress blues, she wore her best dress.
He was late, but only a little — 10 minutes after three years.
She saw him come into the bar and got up from the table.
He took off his officer’s hat, bent down and kissed her
and for a long time they held each other, just held each other.
Then they ordered drinks and had dinner.
I was born in October — on the 15th:
“Pay day,” my father always said,
and my mother always smiled.
I am racing in the short light
shopping the mall as if
there’s no tomorrow
frantic for spring the same as
a bear in hibernation
he races with eternity and
I’m cooking in four pots at once and
company ringing at the door
I’m in snow tunnels scurrying with
mice in search of warmth
I leave my nest in the maple tree
wondering, can I remember where
I hid the nuts and can I find them
before the sun goes down
Dew soft blankets, candle glow
Iridescent new fallen snow
Moonlight aura and stillness keep,
Kaleidoscope lights and dreamless sleep
Whiff of pine from harvest trees
Adorned with loving memories
Children’s eyes as bright as cake
Laughter in the house to make
Winter ale and pots of stew
And a sacred silence —
My wish for you.