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North Winter

ISSUE:  Summer 1964
  1. Coming of winter
    is a beech sapling
    rising silverly
    in a brown field
    in bramble in
    thicket the raspberry
    the rosemallow
    all gone to rust
    is a silver sapling
    to which in wind
    and the judaskisses
    of snow the starved
    brown leaves cling
    and cling.
  2. In spring the mountain was a fish
    with blond scales
    in summer the mountain was a crab
    with a green shell
    in fall the mountain was a leopard
    with a fiery coat
    in winter the mountain is a bird
    with lavender feathers
    and a still heart.
  3. Snow
    bitter wind
    the body of love.
  4. Where two boots labored yesterday across the
    snowdrifted pasture
    today each boothole is an offertory of
    bright seeds
    bittersweet yellowbirch hemlock pine thistle
    burning unconsumed.
  5. Stronger than destiny is pain
    and in the leaf
    the marvelous venature is stronger
    and in the year
    the last morsel of pancake
    of the forty-third breakfast
    is stronger.
  6. Caught in a brier of stars
    the lunar scrap blurred
    like paper fluttering in a gale
    carrying away a faintly remembered
    poem of a summer night.
  7. Twenty-two degrees below zero
    and only the blade of meadow
    like a snowpetal or foil of platinum
    defends the house from the glistening
    mountain and the unwinking
  8. The morning ice on the window
    is opaque as beaten silver
    and the poet in his ninefootsquare hut
    stamps rhythmically breathing out plume
    after plume of warmth while the stove
    nibbles a few frozen sticks.
  9. In the snowy woods of morning
    the new deer tracks run
    cross and criss and circle among
    the snowappareled spruces and the
    gray maples telling of revels by night
    of joy and delight and happiness
    beyond any power of consciousness
    although the small green pellets
    mean a hard diet.
  10. The tamarack with needles lost
    and a thousand curled stiff twigs
    like dead birdsfeet takes
    the snow greedily and in snatches
    to cover its misshapen nakedness.
  11. Think not of chaste snow always
    nor of crystalline coldness think
    of spruce boughs like the swordblade
    breasts of negresses and of the bull
    mountain humped over the white soft
    valley and of stags raging down
    the rutting wind and of northern
    passion crackling like naked trumpets
    in the snow under the blazing aurora.
  12. The song of the gray
    ninepointed buck
    contains much contains
    many contains all
    a whole north for
    example the sweet
    sharp whistling of
    the redpolls caught
    overhead in the branches
    of the yellow birch
    like leaves left over
    from autumn and at
    night the remote
    chiming of stars
    caught in the tines
    of his quiet exaltation.
  13. The snowy owl moved across the snowsmooth
    meadow to the dark balsam without sound
    without wingbeat more quiet than a fish
    more effortless than the gliding seed
    as if it were a white thought of love
    moving moving over the pasture to home.
  14. Five jays
    good and evil
    in a
    like five
  15. Eons gone by the sea
    hissed among these promontories
    in ageless stress and despair
    now stilled
    but memorialized
    in the frozen whirl and floodtide of the snow.
  16. Like a frozen lake the sky on the bitterest
    night cracks in rays a black elm
    rising a spray of limbs revealing
    the longdrowned lurid moon.
  17. Cold hunger tripped her but her years
    held her downfallen in this snow hollow
    this small death valley where small beaks
    and talons will slowly chip her frozen
    being though in the snow desert she will
    not bleach and her eyes will stay soft
    and beautiful a long long time in the
    winter light and she will modestly wear
    her genteel tatters of old flesh and fur.
  18. The frozen
    brook sprawls
    in sunlight
    a tree of glass
  19. Snow buntings whirling
    on a snowy field
    cutglass reflections
    on a ceiling.
  20. The dog flies with his ears
    across the snow carrying a
    deer’s legbone in his jaws
    the bone flops threejointedly
    and the little hoof dances
    delicately in the snow.
  21. The window
    the icicle
    the gleaming moon
    when the lamplight fails.
  22. The night is an immense cauldron
    four farms of boiling snow under
    a gale from the pole and the highway
    where headlights cringe
    seethes with a furious froth
    and melts away.
  23. This wind this
    screaming parrot
    this springing
    wolf this down
    fall this ab
    solute extinc
    tion this deton
    ating godhead
    this wind this.
  24. Blizzard trampling past has left
    the birches bent as in humiliation
    the soft scotch pines laid down
    as in subjection the beeches snapped
    at the top as in a reign of terror
    the balsams scarred but upright
    as in the dignity of suffering and all
    the woods in sorrow as if the world
    meant something.
  25. Pale dawnlight spooks the mist
    and the valley glimmers and
    higher behind the mountain
    whitely rises another peak
    in remote majesty a presence
    silent and unknown and gone
    by noon.
  26. In cold
    the snow
    leaps and
    over the
    but in thaw
    the sullen fingers
    of snow heavily
    cling to each stalk
    and to every stone.
  27. Tracks of the snowshoe rabbit across the
    are a ridiculous ominous alphabet of
  28. The brook has holes in its cover
    this morning
    where the black water flows
    rippling menacing
    through the snow

    which mounds in untouched purity
    except where
    threaded prints of the mink
    delicately deathly
    stop to drink.
  29. Snow comes
    bits of light
    flake from the sky
    day breaks whirling
    in early night.
  30. Beginning with the palest and most delicate lavender
    arras of
    old brocade
    loveliest hues
    snow blending
    the bare
    forests called
    green in summer
    now this
    over the
  31. Heavy gloves
    or better
    the north silencing
    savoring and saving
    that lewdword
  32. After the thaw after
    illusion the cold comes
    changed in aspect
    a great body of death
    and inertia a corpse
    flung down
    a whale
    gray and still
    and immense crushing
    becomes hard and silent
    night stiffens heaving
    to support the weight
    while the woods groan
    and the soft snow
    turns metallic
    barren and brittle
    the house creaks
    under the burden in
    mindless suffering
    and its nails burst
    out with a sound of
    cracking bones
    sets in afternoon
    jays huddle say
    nothing and
  33. Sky like fishblood
    deprecative lurid thin
    evening blush on the mountain
    and here
    the foreground
    very near
    a sheen
    of vitrescent snowcrust
    and reflected light
    lurid deprecative
  34. Gunmetal snow icecolored sky
    granitic meadow sullen noon
    stunted yellowed loplimbed pine
    flayed birch elm tattered
    with empty nests poverty
    hunger bitten fingers retracting
    in splayed gloves dead sun
    gray hair poverty poverty.
  35. Wet fire
    it turns out
    is better than
  36. Sky yellow sky
    wet sky reeky
    sky lax some
    god’s old diaper.
  37. The day the brook went out
    was still midwinter locked
    in zodiacal fastness yet
    rain fell and fell in fact
    so much the snow turned green
    and the water in the brook
    covered the ice like urine
    until at one crack
    the whole damned thing let go
    ice and muddy water trees
    stones bits of lumber snow
    like a racketing express
    through a local stop and then
    subsided leaving the banks
    dark and dirty raw and torn
    with new patterns of rocks
    looking unfamiliar what
    a purgation it was wild
    and beautiful the result
    wasn’t bad either all told
    for now the brook is rising
    again after the long
    icebound repression singing
    a midwinter rebel song.
  38. Lover of balsam and lover of white pine
    o crossbill crossbill
    cracking unseen with of all things scissors
    seeds seeds
    a fidget for ears enpomped in the meadow’s
    silence silence
    a crackling thorn aflame in the meadow’s
    cold cold.

n  f
o      e
39.   Snow’s downstrokes climb softly up the  c          r.

  1. Lichen and liverwort
    laurel and brome
    lightened and gravamen
    of old stones
    a cellar hole far
    in foliate woods
    the dry cistern
    where sweet water stood
    the stepstone to nothing
    that summer entwined
    softly and now
    drowned in the snow.
  2. Astigmatism breaks
    the crescent moon
    into two images
    set asymmetrically
    so that they cross
    in the upper third
    like two scimitars
    flung down at rest
    in the Sahara.
  3. In freshfallen snow
    marks of pad and paw
    and even partridge claw
    go delicately and distinct
    straight as a string of beads
    but marks of a heeled boot
    waver shufflle wamble
    ruckle the snow define
    a most unsteady line

    then spell it out once so

    death knowledge being heady
    it hath not the beasts’ beauty
    goeth tricksy and ploddy
    and usually too damn wordy
    but drunken or topsyturvy
    gladhanding tea’d or groovy
    it arriveth
    it arriveth
    o you pretty lady.
  4. Lichen is a hardy plant
    hardy hardy
    sustenance from the granite ledge
    nouriture from the dead elm bole
    icy plant hoar plant
    living kin
    to rime
    the north plant
    of death poverty and resolution.
  5. On Lincoln’s birthday the forest
    bound in fifty degrees of frost
    stirs tentatively with a creaking
    here and there in the new strength
    of the noticeably higher sun.
  6. Four greens
    the aspen trunk
    the lichen on the aspen trunk
    the shadow of the aspen across the snow
    the vanished leaves of the aspen fluttering
    all over the sky.
  7. Under the hill a winter twilight
    darkens to evening colorlessly
    without sunset and yet the birches
    rising leaping across the way
    cry pink cry lavender cry saffron
    the instant the darkness freezes them.
  8. When conditions of frost and
    moisture are just right
    the air is filled
    with thousands and thousands
    of points of light
    like the fireflies come back
    only tinier and much more brilliant
    as if the fireflies
    had ghosts
    to haunt the February night.
  9. Small things are hardest
    to believe
    a redpoll snatches the drops
    from an icicle.
  10. In late winter cold nights and
    warm days bring the untimely
    harvests bright pails and smoke
    in the sugarbush and the snow
    called cornsnow on the mountain
    whining under the skis like
    chickfeed plunging in the chute
  11. One day music
    everywhere in the woods
    water water
    dripping from fir boughs
    spilling from ledges
    as when a woman sleeping
    speaks a strange word
    or a name
    so winterfolk
    the chickadees give over
    harshness for a sort of
    and the poet appears
    emerges brushing the
    mist from his shoulders
    amused and yawning
    tasting the snowwater
    crumbling a bit of tanbark
    in his teeth
    water water
    the pools and freshets
    earth glistening
    releasing the ways of
    words of
    earth long frozen.

Aterword: What the Poet Had Written

. . . and sun the blear sun straggled forever
on the horizon an unvarying scrutiny around
around as they limped and stumbled holding
each other against the wind over the ice
that crumbled under them in the tremors of
unseen currents and the compass plunging
and rearing the sun the livid sun smeared
in the wind watching watching never
relenting till exhaustion inundated them
yet they slept with their eyes open clinging
together just as they walked often with
their eyes shut hand in hand and fell
at last tripped on their destination
their sextant snagged their compass wild
with incomprehension and they looked
over the sides of the world    The sun
the bloated sun ever on the horizon ballooning
and they shuddered and turned to each other
and then dropped down their plumbline
under them and payed out its knots
hand over hand to the end to fifteen hundred
fathoms and felt the plummet still swinging in
the void. . .

. . . nothing they were nothing
afloat on nothing frozen by the winds of
nothing under the meaningless glare of nothing’s
eye there where the compass points down
there where the needle turns in. . .

. . . why
had they come so far what had led them
drawn them into the remoteness and the
hostility of north what did north mean
and why why was one of them black and
the other white these were the points in
doubt    There in confrontation they gave over
the last dissemblings and the last nostalgias
nothing against nothing yet more than that
the infinitesimal nothing against the
nothing of all the nothing of the real and in
this giddiness they became at last
the objectivists    They drew back not in
fear for fear had consumed itself
but as the painter retreats from his canvas
and so they saved themselves now seeing
how this was their only virtue the withdrawing
mind that steadies before reality and they
turned slowly together through the whole
arc of absurdity with outstretched hands
bestowing cold benediction on the north
and then sank down    Another confrontation
stoned them as they peered into each other’s
eyes . . .

. . . and saw nothing nothing    Oh
in the low gutteral inner voice they exclaimed
the misery the destitution of nothing. . .

. . . and saw nothing except yes this is the
object nothing except the other’s returning
gaze which each knew also saw



in this likeness this scrap of likeness that
contained their likelihood they arose once
more calmly the tall twin centers
of compassion in the wide field of cold and
horror    And the sun the huge sun circled
around them. . .

. . . they came back trudging
in love and hardship while the sun
took a month to set cowering lidless on the
extremity of the ice floe where they
crouched    Aurora flickered and mounted
pale brightening caparisons of yellow
and green falling fluttering swaying
in such majestic movements that that
elemental silence pealed with trumpets
and they truly listened with their eyes    Did
they then see with their ears the changing
simplicities of wind and snow the
purity of whiteness whispering everywhere
in dunes and fastnesses and cascades
Reality gladdened them and all the more
when the astonished walrus fell off his seat
backwards whopping the sea and they smote
their knees and wallowed in the snow. . .

. . . north is a horror from which a horror grows
a purity and fervor to which in opposition
an equal purity and fervor supervene north
is the latitude of the near remote lying
beyond hope and beyond despair lying in destination
where the compass points down the needle turns in
where the last breath of meaning is borne away
on the cold wind north is the meaninglessness
of beauty uncaused in the complete object
auroral flickerings on the eternal snows
the eye swimming in the mind’s deluge
the blue mountain floating on emptiness
the shadow of the white bear gliding underfoot
north is the vacancy that flowers in a
glance wakening compassion and mercy and
lovingkindness the beautiful dew
of the sea rosmarine the call dying in silence
so distant so small and meeting
itself in its own silence forever north is
north is the aurora north is
deliverance emancipation . . .

. . . north is

nothing . . .


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