06 January 2011

a poem for winter

I looked for a solid, filling poem about winter—a verbal equivalent to ham and wild rice soup simmering away all day in the Crock Pot—and I found depression instead.

Judging by these poems I read, winter is a drag. A long drag into spring when life becomes vibrant and verdant again.

Oh, you can muscle your way into a good mood during winter, these poems tell me. But that would be a significant effort, and winter is about a significant effort to get through the day.

I don't believe that.

In winter, we can see all sorts of symbolic lessons about perseverance and celebrating, even in the dark.

In winter, we can learn to look closer at small details of a tree, usually brushed over in the glories of fall or the first burst of spring.

In winter, we can see the essential.

I went looking for a poem that conveyed those ideas, and I will give a caveat: I looked only in Garrison Keillor's Good Poems. Another caveat: it was a rather quick look, one night in bed. My eyes were pulling down, and my whole body wanted to burrow {a side effect of making the thermostat drop to 58 at night}.

I went looking, and I came back cold and no longer enamored with the crackle of frosted grass under my feet.


Until I read "January" by Baron Wormser.


"Cold as the moon," he'd mutter
In the January of 5 A.M. and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
One more misanthropic morning.

It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.

"Shoulda brought in the battery last night."
"Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once."

It was always early rising as he'd worked
A lifetime "in every damn sort
Of damn factory." Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, "was sensible."

I was so stupid about valves and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?

"No way to live," he'd say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.

Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Showed indifference to the defroster
He'd turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed.



It's that line about how hot coffee and winter sunrises are the two best things in the world that made me deem this the right poem for today, for how I feel about winter.

The blend of very plain language in the dialogue and the poetic highlights {saying his breath hung like a white balloon, for a little example}—that speaks to me of winter, too.

It's the time of year when we most feel our struggle to survive in the elements {assuming you live in a place with four seasons}, dashing from home to car to office to car to store to car to home to bed. But at this time when life becomes very plain, then, especially then, we want to find the deeper beauty in the plainness.

We want to look for something a bit more eternal-feeling than what the thermostat tells us.

Also, if you have a poem or a song or a story that speaks to you of winter, let me know. I found this one poem, but that doesn't mean I've stopped looking for more reminders of that eternal-feeling.


  1. Oh oh. The song "Icicles" by Patty Griffin. I feel like it walks the line between "When is winter over again?" and "Oh look! Winter! Pretty!"

    I can't manage to post a link for some reason, but if you look up "Patty Griffin icicles" the first option you have is to play the full song via MySpace.

  2. Shovel by Breathe Owl Breathe is my favorite winter song.

  3. Oh, I like both of those songs, Alyssa and Blade -- thanks for the recommendations!



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