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We’re getting another snowstorm this afternoon. It almost makes me break down in sobs I am so tired of freezing winds and storms coming up the coast and throwing out enough skirts of shivery precipitation to get this far north. Boston, New York City, Phillly, they’ll all get shellacked with ice and blizzards. Maybe not as bad as a few storms ago, but plenty mischievous nonetheless. But each time we get a March storm, it leaves behind this rumpled, messy quilt bunched up on all the hillsides and whipped into tufts after the snowplows come roaring through. Then the aftermath, some warming up, a nice breeze to make you think spring might actually visit us for a few weeks. But no. The Midwest has other ideas, and off we go again, seesawing our way through what used to be the first mild days of mid-March. Alas, alack.
When the snow sits a day or two, we get what is called corn snow, the kernels of ice that form on the surface from brief thaws and new freezes. That makes skiers cry out in frustration as they skid along over the crunchy gravel of a slope. And when the corn snow peters out, we get rotten snow, the porous, oozy underskin of ice that has grown tired of glittering and now lies there like some panting old dog with half-lidded eyes, too pooped to get up and roam.
My canister of rock salt is pretty well gone. Our front step has been seasoned every other day or so to keep us from tumbling down onto the flagstones. The neighbor who plows out our driveway has come several times to shovel the front walk so we can make it safely to the car. But now that we have had our fuel tank refilled at the new inflationary price of oil, we can count on bills like our last one, $651.00 for a few hundred gallons. That will last us two weeks at best. God only knows what we’ll pay the next time the man comes. But I am sitting here in my cardigan, with my nose only beginning to get numb from the brisk air. I’m grateful. Even if I’m going broke.
I’m not complaining too loudly. The Ukrainians are out there on the hills waiting to get into Poland, and the snow is pelting their thin coats and caps and making the kids squirm up against their moms. I can’t think of a worse fate than this. I hate to be cold, but now I must imagine the misery and horror of trying to soothe a desperate child and a trembling old granny, and a dog that looks around forlornly and quivers. So, I’ll quit my self-pity long enough to say that Ukraine is the weight of conscience in this country, mine included. We are watching a little America defy a grizzly bear to its north, under the mad rule of an old KGB colonel embittered for life over the collapse of the Soviet Union, where his future was embedded and destroyed. His smug mouth and soft chin, his lizard eyes and cold, soulless stare are enough to tell you that if it came to some endgame he thought he couldn’t win, the nuclear button is close at hand.
Who knows where the line is drawn in a tyrant’s sense of morality? What could stay his hand should he begin to feel desperate? I suppose every tyrant is a little different from the others, but they are all basically composed of the toxic narcissism that gave us Donald Trump. The ferocious ego each embodies demands to be fed with victories, with power to create and destroy at will and whim. Nothing anyone says can challenge the imperial will of such men. They defy their advisors, they think science is a chorus of naysayers eager to contradict their reptilian aggression. Wives, children, friends, they are all some muted chorus behind them as they gobble up attention and spread fear and panic among their constituents. When Mary Trump wrote her book about her uncle, Too Much but Never Enough, one of the more telling passages is when she visited her uncle at the Trump Tower and observed how empty the apartment was, bare walls, indifferent sofas and chairs, cold hallways, sterile spaces that laid bare the emptiness of the man’s soul. He had no friends; no pets; no fond memories he could cherish with a few mementoes. He lived solely in his deranged ambitions and cared nothing about relationships. It was painful for her to sit there awaiting his footsteps. She knew he was, as she put it, “the most dangerous man in the world.” That he was capable of mass murder, that he could destroy a centuries-old democracy, the world’s oldest. That he regarded the White House as nothing more than a flimsy palace where his ambitions could take root and make his power permanent. No wonder he befriended Putin and Kim Jong Il, his fellow belligerents and power mongers. It made me shiver to read those sentences where she takes in all the evidence she needed to draw the fateful conclusion that he was eaten alive by his insecurities. Now that his father, the ruthless and depraved Fred Trump, was dead, who could he prove his worth to? A host of gangsters came and went from his inner circle, the more evil the better. But they were all fall guys, mere props to his larger vision of himself. If they served him, so be it. But if they ever wavered in their devotion, like Pence and Mitch McConnell, they were defenestrated from the castle keep.
But we were talking about snow, not the dust of madness falling over us. I’m sure before I am finished typing my screed that huge flakes of ice will come winging their way out of heaven to gather on the ground like so much ash. The fields will bleach, the hills go soft and disappear, the sky lower and bulge and grunt out its freight of morose cargo. I’ll meander around the rooms and switch on lights, pull out my cart and load it with logs for the night, pick and choose kindling from the box I get now and then from the lumber mill. I have a bottle of Rhone wine to comfort me, and a chunk of organic salmon to bake with some potatoes and onions. We’ll be fine within the compass of our tiny retreat, and may even forget how long and tedious the season has grown. We’ll look out the window at a new moon smiling down on us. And I’ll go out in the morning to study the little sprouts of irises, already peeking out of the ice-flecked ground, with neon-bright green skin and tiny throbs of buds already half forming at their tendril tips. I’ll inspect the deer prints on the side of the road, and discern some sort of family of does and newborns among the hoof marks. The great will of nature pays no attention to us, even as we soil the heavens and litter outermost space with our wastes.
Even then, there is a poetry to life, a profound celebration of the life force that is beginning to yawn and stretch from its winter sleep and to gaze about at the still immoveable eternity that we all share. When the sun does come back in all its force, I will grab a tree and whisper my love to it. I will promise not to be a defiler of what is sacred here. I will follow the native American precept, walk anywhere but leave no trace behind. My soul will grow this summer, and feast on the dark blue sky and all its wonders, the bright bulging clouds full of the purest cotton and radiance. The birds will be my guardian spirits as I walk my old muddy path out to the barn. Robins are already here, in abundance, fat and sleek and with dark rust-colored breast feathers, and wildly erotic songs to sing. My troubadours, my poets of the air. Worms will write a page in the earth’s diary, and tell of the splendors of the world hidden behind the arras of pebbles and vines. A bee will voice all the bass notes of an opera in progress, with the lovers not yet even conceived who will become the principals of this great drama of the semitic urge, as Whitman would say. I will consider the daylight my writing lamp and the writhing ground heaving with passion and desire my unwritten page. My hand will be guided by the flight of butterflies and wasps, and the exotic dancing of the gnats. Everywhere I look there is a geisha waiting to make tea and to sing to us, to draw open the rice paper partitions to let in the bright crisp air of April. The Hopi women will be attired in fringe skirts and deer-skin tunics, and will take partners in the dance of thankfulness to the sky. All I have to do is open my eyes to feel the flood of grace pour into me. My spirit will no longer be ailing from self-pity. If I am lucky, I won’t even know if I have a self at all, just a pair of Emersonian eyes to gaze on the everlasting bounty of Eden.
Copyright 2022 Paul Christensen
Paul Christensen is a poet and writer who lives in Vermont.