I should be writing. The literary trifecta are in reach: laptop, coffee, Annie Dillard books. But even so, I can’t stop watching the breeze play with the steam off my coffee. It’s mesmerizing, like a hands-on lava lamp. Just as the sunlight catches the swirls, they vanish. Diffused. It’s normal and romantic, ethereal and earthy. This is the first day in this calendar year that I’ve written outdoors, and I feel the threat of poetry in the air.
The winter has been long and harsh.
Relentless ice trapped us in shrinking houses. Days shortened to minutes, and weather systems with dramatic titles descended. Bomb cyclones. Storms with unapologetically outdated names. This was nature’s company.
We craved the thaw. Pulling on our boots, we’d search the monotonous fields for any sign of life, intentionally following bunny trails and deer tracks. We’d brush snow from pine branches, searching under the boughs for scat or boroughs. We needed to know that life had once been in this place.
Looking up, we’d scan futilely for birds, calling living things out of the clouds instead. There! A passing elephant. Here! A stalk of corn, blown over.
The groundhog saw his shadow and flipped his tail in disgust. Who could blame him? March had tucked itself in under the goose down whiteness of snow and showed no sign of stirring.
The earth was still frozen when the rains came. We watched the 10 foot snow drift outside our front doors crest before our eyes, an angry wave, flipping on the lights and shouting the ground out of bed. Time to wake up.
When she refused, the wave became an ocean. It raged along the surface of the unrelenting ground, filling up fox dens and ditches. It chased the retreating animals to higher ground then drowned them in disgust. Just up north, 200 pig carcasses piled up against the side of a ruined barn, and I can’t help but wonder if this rush of spring is the mercy of exorcism or a curse of dark tides. I kiss the nose of every pig cast into the waters, for they are many.
Today, instead of writing, I wrap my hands around my coffee mug and soak its warmth into my palms. I wonder – do I consider the cost of my prayers? What carcasses line the path of every unshackled man? What horrors grab the heels of a good thing birthed? I’m tired of dabbling in soulless words but I fear the carnage that comes with spring.
Poetry is the gift of speaking in tongues but before the words are filled with Spirit, there must be a baptism of fire. I wonder if I should just let it lie. Sleeping dogs, and all.
Better to watch the steam vanish off of my cooling coffee and drink the lukewarm joe in one gulp. The sun is wrapping me in its folds, gently, and I close my eyes in submission. That’s when I notice a tap-tap-tap in the woods, and smile. The painted woodpecker that comes so often to my window has abandoned the feeder for fresher finds. I’m glad he’s home. I’ve missed his song.
With my eyes closed, I hear a cacophony of sounds. The stream is living up to all clichés, and babbling its little heart out. Returning geese shout from their mighty vees, rivaling the songbirds in the cottonwoods. Usually, the birds quiet down once the dawn has passed but they have a winter’s worth of songs stored up in their bellies. They will not be silenced.
The songbirds migrate home in droves. Thousands of black bodies on barren branches make our trees look as if they have grown new leaves – only darker and louder. When they all descend, the effect is visceral. I imagine Tippy Hedren locking herself in a phone booth and I feel the urge to join her. Unnervingly, the birds crescendo, until the dog – fed up with all this ruckus – dives at the trees and drives them upward.
I watch their dark mass twist and turn, catching in the sunlight, until they dissolve and vanish. Romance and normalcy. Spirits and specters. What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of David?