The seed speckles the snow like buckshot piled neatly under the branch where we, fingers numbed, tied the little chalet to the lowest limb of the ancient maple. The birds stand staring as the squirrel swings slowly in the breeze.
After all that has happened, after all of the changes tumbling one upon another, after breathing again new air, after ceding fear to hope when I sit down to write it all I have at the end is a small glass of snow in the middle of July.
You came, Harlan, to Rochester somewhere in an endless winter, “Ellison in Tundraland” you said. We all chuckled approvingly.
You said a short prayer climbing into the rusting Opel, sliding on the edge of oblivion, and the approaching snowplow.
You stood, hoarse, smelling of Borkum Riff and English Leather, a tweed jacket over a polo shirt and thinning jeans and told us of the insanity of television, a medium pandering to idiots. We nodded, hoping you would finish before the Star Trek rerun.
We sat in Pat and Sandy’s as you consumed two orders of fries, and a dwindling bowl of ketchup. Later we sat in the Rat, staring at the empty bottles of Boone’s Farm until you took pity and ordered two pitchers. You were our patron saint.
Solzynitsyn was exiled to a cabin in Vermont, staring as the leaves greened and fell under winter. You served your banishment in the land of lost souls, miles from any reality.
First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)
It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but you probably wouldn’t have been all that upset. It was all about you, but not for you, that comes later, and we know you’ll be pleased. This one was for some of us who needed this to be able to keep going, to keep from looking only back, into the darkness that is our shadow. He said it was a celebration, and it was that, and we put on our best faces, hid our tears as best we could, and as we stood in the cold air in the cemetery, we only wished it over, and when the sun appeared suddenly, we knew you wished that as well, but in your case, it was more likely that you wanted us working on the party we will soon throw for you and that one, too will be for us, but among the things we miss you for, was your willingness, you desire to share.
I want the sky to be that certain crimson tinged with burnt sienna and cinnabar, but today winter is holding sway and the sun sneaks off behind the gray wall from which it only peeked, and left the day one of grayscale where intensity replaced beauty and even the cardinal opted to stay high in the spruce, offering only an occasional glint of red. We come to expect this, it is a season of colorlessness, and the only question is whether we can hold out until spring returns the full pallette and nature takes up brush again.
The moon has gone past full and as waning as I write, it’s slow retreat hopefully taking with it the burden of winter, that we now must measure in feet, the inches having been heaved up, one upon another. Spring will come soon for a taste of it, for spring is an inveterate tease, preferring to appear only long enough to let the melting snows floor around, and to occasionally into our homes, so that we, maps and markets in hand, pause to dream of the summer which we now doubt will ever appear.