1. Morning of Crystal
This is the deathless body, and this
the land’s blood … and here the wine-laced sky
over Iowa resembles a heavenly parfait.
In one more day Des Moines
will be diapered by first snow. A young girl,
barely real, glazes the sidewalk
with a stupid look. Iowa in winter always
dumbfounds the love in us.
Before long, nothing opposes the weight and resolution
of this sky, this wilderness of earth
hardening. When heaviness strikes like a clock
glowing incandescently, the season
opens to itself, as if a familiar stunt
in a traveling show, a fabulation only
a touched young girl can devise for any new world.
Des Moines. November 1973
2. Cooking the Cold
In our smoke house,
in hot fog of hickory and buckeye chips,
we hang meats
like vignettes, independent
of all but the bones
and soup. Outside,
it’s the same white shimmering
we trust like an open palm,
like an apothecary.
And in these crosswinds,
as our fire builds,
stirrings of primordial dusk begin
Shelby County, Ohio. December 1974
3. Ice Finesse
Long Christmas evening in a farm woman’s bed,
I warm like a quilt.
A December of junctions,
dark, unlittered, airy as entry
into fable, cutting against grains
of propriety. We are decent
enough, naked in the self-paintings
we brush like hair. On holy night,
waking to the screech of pipes bursting
in winter’s elaborate dwelling,
our spines ice us
upright, like posts in the sheets.
Assured of disaster,
we fall back to swarm over
from our polished skins.
Independence, Missouri. December 1975
4. The Certainties
Kept animals stray in the wind-driven snow twenty miles northwest
Out of Minneapolis, white-faced heifers each searching the eyes
Of the others, doomed. These distances blowing closed over roads
And county fences, emanate from the hardest parts of us like certainties.
At desolate junctures, hardly moving, a gunshot of breath signals
The residue of soul. On this barren, narrow towpath, the hung
Bellies of cows lunge through drifts forming whale tracks, inching
Ahead, the beasts hopeful as drifters at the hiring gate. Night-hammered,
Blizzard-ripe, we wait by the window with house plants, our fears
Nearly realized, a salt lick of faith turning to stone in our bowels.
Coon Rapids, Minnesota. January 1976
5. An Undoing
My horses are dead,
but the hail has gone.
Three hundred miles south
the ground is fit to plant.
I rinse out in a wind,
dreaming of lumber.
Logs and dead crops
appear in my songs.
In this looseleaf country,
I can bury and build.
Rightly, it is winter.
I won’t need more horses.
Shelby County, Indiana. February 1977
6. On the Upside
On Hubbard Street, among factory signs
And the gay bars further west, this winter
In the ditch does not mean enough.
With innocence, a melodrama of duty
Is played by the big Pole city workers,
Flinging rock salt, unplugging sewers
In defense of a surprise freeze.
Their smiles, like habits, break hard.
Their black stocking caps appear
Stark and vulnerable to the young men cruising
Past hand-in-hand, swimming at noon
Toward darkened theaters and bargain hotels,
Requiring sweet ambush, a ration
Of luxury. These filthy buildings don’t care,
Can’t whistle insults. Soon the Poles,
Immutable as mud, will have picked
These streets clean of ice
And loitering glances, will filter
Home to dinners of wurst and bock beer,
Laying odds against more snow.
And slowly, in its timeliness, a clothesline
Of color will string through the city,
Flapping proudly, ready for collision
With high blue skies, like old lovers
Tossing again in a warehouse loft, straining free.
Northside Chicago. March 1978