as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Our high school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me—
called to his office for skipping school.
The day before, we ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rolling asphalt roads
through the Missouri River bottoms
beyond town, our heads emptied
of review tests and future plans.
We stopped on a dirt lane to hear
a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell
heart-break blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.
Now forty years after that geography lesson
in spring, I remember the principal’s words.
How right he was in saying:
This will be part of
your permanent record.
A little heat in the iron radiator,
the dog breathing at the foot of the bed,
and the windows shut tight,
encrusted with hexagons of frost.
I can barely hear the geese
complaining in the vast sky,
flying over the living and the dead,
schools and prisons, and the whitened fields.
The best place to be is here,
at home, the two of us, while
others ski or eat out. It will be
quiet. We won’t watch the ball
fall, the crowd in Times Square.
They will celebrate while here
there is this night. Tomorrow
some will start over, or vow
to stop something; maybe try
again. Here the snow will
fall through the light over
the back door and gather
on the steps. We will hope
our daughter will be safe.
She will wonder what
the year will bring. Maybe
we will say a prayer.
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
-E. E. Cummings
Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.