Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature: over 400,000 monthly users

Fred Everett Maus: White Light 2020

Since the cold weather came, I am almost always in this house. In these pandemic days I have nowhere to go, and my long daily walks in the woods have paused. Sometimes I feel the walls are a skull, and I am the thoughts bouncing around inside. The windows, of course, are my eyes. These days white light shines up from the ground, as though I live on the surface of the moon. I love the stern white, but I would not want light like that inside my home.

I throw some seeds onto the snow and the dark-eyed juncos are here, very busy. Dark all over, not just the eyes, except where their white bellies duet with the snow. Two song sparrows pick at the seeds, carefully outside the circle of juncos. When the juncos and sparrows see me moving inside the house they flee into nearby branches. Sometimes I look outside and there are crows instead, different dark birds, the contrast of size so funny.

I go to the piano and play Debussy’s Prelude, “Des pas sur la neige.” The noteheads on the page look like juncos on the snow. The black keys on the keyboard are like crows. The words are always translated “Footprints in the snow”; I like “Footsteps” better. You hear the footsteps, soft and even. I am not sure what Debussy was thinking. I look through the windows near the piano, and what I see outside has nothing to do with these sounds. I see stillness and calm. The music is human, with emotional descriptions at specific points in the score. “Expressive and dolorous … especially animating the expression … expressive and tender … like a tender, sad regret.” These instructions are paradoxical; the lean composition gives the pianist so few notes to accomplish these effects. The harmony is often severe; sometimes it warms and softens, but always with austerely restricted means.

I wake up at 3 AM. Light is coming in through my blinds. I am sure I left one of the outside lights on, and I go to check. It’s sunlight that ricochets from the full moon to the snow and back up into the air. I could read a book outside in this light, but not in this cold.

When I was a child, my father told me that when someone freezes to death, it’s like falling asleep. This has haunted me, an image of gentle release. White snow fading to inner darkness. I go online to fact-check. It’s not true: dying of cold, before you lose consciousness you have terrible shaking. I was told other false things as a child; we all were. For example, that birds do not think, are not conscious, but are just machines of pure stimulus and response. Birdbrains. Outside at the feeder I see cooperation, competition, alert observation, relaxation, caution …

My unscientific fantasies of death by cold meld with Debussy’s piece—fragmented flickers of warmth and feeling before the music settles into its last hollow chord. S’endormir dans la neige, falling asleep in the snow.


Copyright 2022 Fred Everett Maus

Fred Everett Maus teaches music at the University of Virginia.

Common Raven (source: Pixabay)

17 comments on “Fred Everett Maus: White Light 2020

  1. Arlene Weiner
    January 24, 2022

    I’m happy to hear of your juncos. Last winter I saw no juncos, or maybe one very late in the season. So far this winter none. I’ll look again, on the snow.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    January 23, 2022

    Oh I can send those crows. I attempt to stay on good terms with them

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Barbara Huntington
    January 22, 2022

    Since the first day of the new year I read with different eyes, different brain. Yet there are the goldfinches and hummingbirds at their respective feeders, the growing gold light outside. Since the stroke, new neural pathways form. I am me, not me. I toss grief and tell myself I am lucky to be a new person in the same life.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vox Populi
      January 22, 2022

      What a lovely post. thank you, Barbara.

      Liked by 4 people

    • sumnullus
      January 23, 2022

      experince with birds of portent ; sat in living room; televizer showing proceedings in United Nations court ; condalezza rice saying words of repentance ; russian delegate looking thoughtful…then zap; tv dead…. (went outside ..looked around ; and wow!! roof full of ravens and crows in the midnightsun ever time )..

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Sean Sexton
    January 22, 2022

    I still want to believe Freezing to death and bleeding to death are both peaceful in the end as I’ve also always heard. A woman once told me about the latter, and she was somehow “retrieved” before the very end.
    We have no snow nor juncos, but the robins arrive annually, turn every quiet leafy redoubt into a raucous fiesta, carrying on like college students in Ft Lauderdale on Spring Break.
    We’ll be ready for them to go when they disappear one day, suddenly as they arrived, but for now, I strangely miss them and wonder where they are. They’re running late by my recollection. It’s been so cold up north, have they gotten frozen along the way?

    Liked by 5 people

    • Noel Canin
      January 22, 2022

      I hope not, I hope they will be back to delight you, as always

      Liked by 4 people

    • Vox Populi
      January 22, 2022

      Thank you, Sean. You post such interesting responses to the poems!

      Liked by 2 people

    • sumnullus
      January 23, 2022

      like ide of freezing to death much more than dying by fire ….also see fine poetry in acts of animals ; remember seeing two young men ; rough housing and wrestling in pure joy ..looked shyly away ; let two young colts play safe from evil eyes

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Noel Canin
    January 22, 2022

    So what if you shudder before dying in the snow, sounds a lot more humane and dying of old age, not knowing who you are, who “they” are or where you are. Rather shake than not recognize myself or my children…snow is just what it is, dying is just what it is – sounds like a good combination to me…

    Liked by 4 people

    • Vox Populi
      January 22, 2022

      Thank you, Noel.

      Liked by 2 people

    • sumnullus
      January 23, 2022

      yes death is ultimate mystery revealed .Birth also very mysterious ,,but few aware of self during birth ; so only problem is Process of Passing On ; time of death the revelation of every wonder ever wondered about

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to follow Vox Populi and receive new posts by email.

Join 10,858 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 4,550,462 hits

Archives

%d bloggers like this: