That no two snowflakes are alike is a more curious story to tell our children than the contrary, lies notwithstanding. Science has proven this assumption, this myth long believed to be true, to be false, but why? Why tell an identical twin that her left eye is droopier than her sister’s? Pack the common, customary, generic, ordinary, unexceptional flakes together into a patented, particular, personal, perfect ball and the warmth of your freezing hand will marvelously reduce it to an unspectacular puddle. This is the fate of all snowflakes. Have you ever seen two puddles that were exactly alike?
As Winter Approaches
You see your breath. The birds squawk about flight patterns and wind shear, then go mute. The hay shivers and the shaken trees give up their dead, a necessary washing of the branches. The wind now proudly wields the microphone.
The cold returns like an old prisoner, unsure of being wanted but having no place else to go. It is all a tagging in, orchestrated by the pulling of strings, not unlike the complexities of crochet.
Soft grasses give way to the hardening soil. Nature burrows in, prepares to sleep, or flees. Flowers, without a sun to face or a face to sun, bow from, not to, a dull gray sky. They await their clippings and plastic coats.
Bricks send out their first smoke signal, the first of the year; odd, considering the year is coming to its bitter end. No other time of year requires communication by chimney. The rest is up to animals.
Inside, weathermen have too much to say and there is too much talk of milk and bread. Christmas decorations go from attic to garage to lawn; their lights, too, have words. Old sweaters are removed from old cedar chests.
There are people, not thought of through the year, who suddenly hold a place in our hearts. Some are young and have gone far too early, others old with no promise of tomorrow. Winter is truly the best and the worst of times.
The bird-scattered seeds sat atop the soil and the rain was a deep-pocketed frequenter. Sometimes, small puddles would form and some seeds made their way into the fertile ground and for some time there would be no activity, no signs of life. The other seeds were pecked away, perhaps by the same birds that had unknowingly sown them. Then time would be the arbiter of this unusual sequence of non-events. There would be little change and the garden would sit nearly empty, an above-ground grave. The sun, the seeds, and the soil must have been baffled by the seemingly dead earth. Hadn’t they seen the dirty hands of cultivation just next door? Tomorrow is not promised in the Bible, though there’s a promise of perpetuity. Mary Oliver called tomorrow invisible; that is its most accurate definition.
Suspended within reach, somewhere in the atmosphere, those few words that will lead my poem home. They tease me, flash me, taunt me. I think I hear them whisper, but my internal clock warns me of the anticipated interruption. It is the commercial that breaks in just before the killer is revealed. Instead of hurrying, I hold. Then there is the detonation and the boy’s energy frightens away the words, which scatter like birds after buckshot fills the air, and then his words come. Before hello, he says, “Raise your hand if you have an armpit,” and, silly me, I do, and I brace for attack. He says he missed me, and I don’t miss my words. There are no words without him.
Were Muses Not Imagined ~for Richard Wilbur
Were muses not imagined By those whom they are said to inspire, I would engage them, Not for words but visions.
As poems heap hot coals Upon the heads of some, They too serve as the cloth That washes Man’s feet.
But some poets claw For third-heaven language, And the residue collected Underneath their fingernails Can ignite stars with God’s fanning breath.
Because You Are Polite
It is hot out and she is wearing all of her clothes because she only has two hands. She rests against a building and you hand her your water. She smiles with closed lips because she does not want you to see her teeth. She says, God bless you, and holds out a hand for you to shake. You are polite, so you oblige her and now there is a sticky substance attached to you and you know nothing about how and what the skin absorbs, and she now possesses the only water in sight. You bid her a good day and, walking away, do not wipe your hand because you are polite.
For Claudia Emerson
I discovered you on the same day I learned of your death. I’d heard of you, of course; what lover of poetry hasn’t? I spent the last seven years doing nothing but working, like Jacob trying to earn Rachel. Finally, I inhaled and you entered my soul. But when I exhaled, you were gone. You wrote of the late wife and then became one. Like a mother who’s miscarried, I ask, How can I miss someone I’d never met?