17 January 2007

the cruelest months

my hunny bunny (a.k.a. will) wrote a blog post (!), replete with one of his poems... i'd say this calls for a guest blogger day here! enjoy!

The Cruelest Months

There is a material distinction between the greyness of a snowy morning and just about any other kind of overcast day. The sky, a brittle, sapless, bare-bark brown. The very air blending into a frostbitten malt of near-stillness and henna smears of tire slush.

Here it is, a week past the New Year. Already, I feel the chafe of tenuous resolutions. And yet, this morning I shrug into layers of t-shirts and sweat shirts, gloves, stocking-caps, hoods, and trundle out into the grey daybreak. The driest scrunch of compacting flakes beneath musical feet. Houses hunkered down against the cold. Thoughts, surrounded, pelted upon, born away into swirling white.

The neighborhood stirs later than usual; its usual bustle hibernating beneath three days of sleet, icy rain and snow flurries. No one out but me and a bundled man urgently walking his dog, the occasional car carrying some intrepid self-starter off to slave in the towers of glass and steel – someone's got to keep the engine of commerce churning…someone, not me.

Up until a couple years ago, I hated to see winter come. I shrunk form its oppressive, looming encroachment - other than a few, brief holiday weeks, pools of warm light staining the early-dusk between October and December 31st. But something in me has begun to thaw in regards to winter.

Winter has its own smells: the incense of the coffee maker, a cold front purity squeezing impurities from the air, leaving only crisp, lucid breath. It has its own sounds: the quilted muffling of salubrious pursuits, the creak of constricted timbers. And yet, fibers and materials grown friable beneath a fleeing sun, seem somehow more mature and less frivolous.

With each inch of snow, with each glacial sheet of ice, my fellow travelers seem to surrender more of the streets to me. Two of the finest nights of the year, Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve. Even before the conclusion of midnight mass, the streets are a ghost town, the bar stools nearly empty, the hours - my hours - solitary and comfortable. (note: Sunday nights prove delightful nights to go on the town for a similar reason).

Some have suggested that I might be more comfortable living in the countryside. But, while I would appreciate a thinning of the ever-present press of humanity, I fear that I am not a creature of the great out-of-doors. It is a horrifying place filled with rustling leaves, shadows, murky streams and the distilled essence of all that remains unknown (if you haven't, I suggest Music On The Hill by Saki, aka H.H. Munro). Yet, I do fantasize, at times, about what it might have been like to live at a time when there were, simply, less people on the planet.

Down to my bones, there is a fondness for the corporealness of urban brick and mortar, neon, and smoky bars. I want people around; I want to feel their pulse and hum in the sidewalks; I want them breathing behind the walls of their homes. I simply do not want them out when I am about. In recent years, I find particularly engaging that scene in 12 Monkeys when Bruce Willis emerges into the winter-scape of a New York City reclaimed by the artic and the wild beasts.

One thing: I do find it odd that we celebrate the fiction of the January 'new' year. We all know in our heart of hearts that the New Year commences with the first blade of grass erupting from the earth.

I remember one particular grey morning over a pitcher of beer at the University of Kansas Student Union (this was before the puritans – all for our own good, of course – decided that 3.2 beer posed a threat to the collegiate mind and body). Two friends and I explored T.S. Elliot's declaration of April as the 'cruelest month,' the poets Millay, Whitman and Frost chiming in. Why do novelists like C.S. Lewis bemoan "Always winter..." while so many poets seem drawn to it? Could it be that poets tend to be mostly alert organisms constructed of exposed nerve endings? Elliot tenders a possible explanation:

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…

As we age, mature in our wineskins; learn to think for ourselves, maybe we grow less inclined to surrender to the rapid, painful explosion of life. Maybe we find more comfort in the slowing, in the less biting numbness of winter. Maybe we surrender more to our poetic inclinations.

I have always been out of step with many of my peers – maybe even something of a contrarian, at odds with so much of the prevailing culture. And here again, even as global warming promises to fulfill my childhood lust for eternal summer, I find a thawing in the permafrost of in my attitude toward the southern solstice months. I hope and pray that the polar bears of these, my new inclinations, don't drown far out to sea, no ice upon which to rest.

OK, a poem:

Disappearing Act

The moon flashes its Cheshire grin
above powdered sugar streets.
Cathedral trees hallelujah wave,
bebop snapping icicle fingers.

inside out, outside in

Down the center of the lane,
frost-bit conversation clears its throat,
shoes cold-front trudge on home
humming a dry tune.
A lone, insomniac window
kitchen glows, up late over coffee

outside in, inside out

Visions of a ripe tomato sun,
fruit swelling on the vine,
lazy with time wasted,
a simple winter's dream away.



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