Good to Melt

darkhedgesantique

 

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.
~Wendell Berry “The Cold”

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Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist,
and into them enters suffering,
in order that they may have existence.
~
Leon Bloy

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I watch new heart chambers form every day
too frozen solid, too overwhelmed
with hurt
and loss
and despair
to continue to pulse warm.
So I try
to help patients let go of
their suffering,
let it thaw to liquid, let the ice melt down,
allow it to pass through freely
forgiving, forgiven~
a heart changed
by winter transformed to spring,
flowing warm from new found grace.

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Outside My Window

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Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
                                  Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
                                  And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.
~William Carlos Williams  “January”

 

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It’s been uncharacteristically cold here for nearly a month and this morning the northeast wind is back, pummeling away at our windows.

This is cold that descends from the Arctic to blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak under drafty doors, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn, mocking us with its discordant chilly chords.

A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our nation is in just such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided about the inauguration to come, each of us feeling battered and pummeled by the winds of change.  If we together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.

Hope is all we have left as so much hot air is being generated by derisive voices, even in the chillest land…

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~Emily Dickinson
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All at Once and Everywhere

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Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.
~David Budbill  – “Winter: Tonight: Sunset”from While We’ve Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press

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Within these days of early winter
is disappearance of the familiar world,
of all that grows and thrives,
of color and freshness,
of hope in survival.

Then there comes a moment of softness amid the bleak,
a gift of grace and beauty,
a glance of dropping sun on a snowy hillside,
a covering of colorful cloud puffs in the valley,
a view through melting ice,
and I know the known world is still within my grasp
because you have hold of me.

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photo by Nate Gibson

Buds So Subtle

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I see buds so subtle
they know, though fat, that this is no time to bloom.
~John Updike from “December, Outdoors”

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Yesterday, our farm trees and bushes filled with buds of ice reflecting a bright and crisp Christmas sunlight.  It was a crystalline wonderland celebrating the subtle beauty of winter.

Yet even today at the local grocery store garden centers, there will no longer be buyers for “winter” products — overnight, Christmas completely disappears except for the “remainder” and “two-for-one” tables. Unsold poinsettias and fresh evergreen wreaths are hauled away along with the oddly shaped and drying Christmas trees to make way for containers of unbearably cheerful primroses and early forced narcissus and hyacinth plants.  Barely a week into winter, Valentine’s Day and spring will be right in our faces as we wheel past with the grocery cart, a seductive lure to effectively skip a whole season of restorative watch-and-wait.  Color and fragrance and lush blooms are handed to us without even taking a breather.

Dormant plants and hibernating animals have the right idea this time of year: “already, but not yet.”  Rather than slogging daily through the burden of mud, skittering precariously across icy fields or reaching up out of snow drifts, they quietly rest up.  Well fed and pregnant with potential, they are alive and well beneath a facade of sleep.  Come out too early and risk starvation and frostbite.

So it’s not yet time to bloom — being a subtle bud is exactly what is needed.  Out-of-season blossoms need not apply.

We swell with potential to dream dreams of a glorious growth to come.

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Between Midnight and Dawn: Breaking Through

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To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
~Luke 18:9-14

 

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in
~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”

 

This presidential election season has been an exhausting exercise in self-aggrandizement — candidates turning up the heat by exalting themselves over their competition, all while standing on the deep frozen lake of voter emotions.

The trouble with such overheating in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice: both those who are far too overconfident in expressing their own righteous views and opinions about how much better they are than others, and those of us who listen and believe the blowhards.

We’ll all end up breaking through the ice, thoroughly doused by the chilly waters below.

Lord, have mercy on us,
help us recognize the cracks forming beneath our feet,
by putting us on our knees before you
and you alone.

 

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Exactly Right

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I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken glass, an icy stone are placed in
exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their
own country.
~ Tom Hennen, “Looking For The Differences” from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems.
_____________
If the pebble, the leaf, the mushroom
are placed exactly right
where they belong,
then so am I~even when I would rather be elsewhere,
even when I could get stepped on,
even when I would rather hide in a hole,
even when exactly right feels exactly wrong.

I’m placed exactly here,
not as royalty,
but as peasant.
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Bitter, Inimical, Implacable Cold

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Cold is an absence, an absence of heat, and yet it feels like a presence–a vigorous, hostilely active presence in the air that presses upon your naked face and that makes your fingers and toes ache within their mittens and boots.  Cold is always working, it seems– busy freezing water in the ponds and rivers, knitting intricate six-sided snowflakes by the billions, finding cracks around the walls and windows of your house, forcing furnaces in the cellar to roar away.

I like winter because it locks me indoors with my books, my word processor, and my clear and brittle thoughts. There is a visual poetry that goes with the cold.  Ferns and stars of frost mysteriously appear on the windows and take their place in a child’s mythology.

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion.   To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from “The Cold”

Today, a goodly portion of the eastern seaboard of the United States is bracing for a mammoth blizzard immobilizing travelers and rendering folks home-bound. Meanwhile, here in the Pacific Northwest, our temperature reached an unseasonably balmy 60 degrees yesterday.

Even in our relative warmth here, we’ve already endured our string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies once the frozen fog abates.  Several feet of snow are back on our summer drought-bared hills and mountains.  During our cold snaps, everything shimmers with diamonds of frosty glitter all day long.  It is the kind of cold this Pacific Northwest native can actually enjoy.  It is not the cold of the midwest plains, or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not natural or seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

We are not always so lucky here.  The cold that sometimes descends in northeast winds from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

Bitter cold or a heavy snow storm ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our whole nation is in just such a bitter, inimical, implacable political cold snap today, terribly divided as we suffer through one of the most hostile and regrettable presidential election cycles in memory.

If we don’t come in out of the societal deep freeze that is afflicting us all, we each will perish alone.   It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we can generate heat, even if we can’t manage to lighten up.

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