WINTER SOLSTICE

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for Nancy Berg, 1985

“You have the sharpest eyes I’ve ever seen.” he said.

“Yes, my eyes are two black thorns. I’m impaled upon myself!”

The woman answered with a smile. “Is that clever enough for you?”

“Yes, it sounds like something a fifteen year old girl would write in a spiral notebook
then wait fifteen years to slip into conversation.”
he laughed.

The man came closer and brought his face near to hers
noticing for the first time the cold sore on her mouth that she covered with makeup.
“Look at the cancer.” she said and turned her eyes away
looking down to the hand woven Persian rug she sat on.

All the intelligence and skill gone into its making were now in her face.
“Let me understand you.” she said. “You’re suggesting that we stay the night together
watching the moon break down through the limbs of sycamores
outside there bleeding snow.
We tell the secrets we would tell to anyone and one or two reserved for lovers
but not the ones  we whisper only to ourselves
and not the one we never let our own selves know?
Is this a business deal, a franchise gone around the world?
I’ll touch you if you’ll touch me?
The only trick is knowing when to pull out.”

“No, that is not what I meant at all.” he answered back. “Well, yes, it is what I meant
but not what I want.”
The man walked over to a window covered with intricate ferns
of frost.
The patterns on the glass reminded him of his own intentions.
He felt alone but somehow beautiful
as when he watched the moon come through a cloud
or listened to a dove in morning fog.

“I don’t understand this kind of talk.” he said.  “Everything we think and say
is a maze and in the center of the maze is our secret heart.”

“Keep talking.” she said, parting her lips a little, showing some tooth.
“You’re getting better at it.  But I’ve heard this before.
We talk until we get what we want, then find we don’t want it anymore
or it don’t want us.”

“Yes.” he said, “We are all the same.
Everyone we have taken in our arms like sheep to be sacrificed are
our own selves.
All those bodies with just enough meat to cover the bone
just enough hair to cover the skull we live in fear of.
White skin over hilarious jawbones
bright eyes in empty sockets
they have all been us.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “I just want to be happy.
Where is the happiness they promised me?”

“Who promised you happiness?” he spat. “I’ll tell you!
The same one who made the fire you’re burning in!”

“What fire?”

“The fire that is eating you! The fire you’re afraid will go out.
And it will go out, slowly or suddenly, in heavy rainfall or in a blowing drought.
Somehow we have to stop it now.
Just stop. Sit down. Wait. Do nothing for a while
maybe a long while, maybe forever, or what seems to be forever.
Then a kind of peace might come like the dawn to this window.
I have seen it gold all over this room while I stood here shivering.”

The intelligence in the woman’s face had changed again
become less like a Persian rug and more like a wall of hand cut stones
fitted together with so much precision, no mortar was needed to hold them
together.

“Oh,” she said, “I have seen your dawn gritting its yellow teeth
grinning behind the backs of white houses
beginning to kneel down in snow!
I have felt its cold breath through the window.”

The man turned and shouted at her
“Listen to me! There is a kind of love that is cold.
It comes from behind you like the ice in a freezing creek that takes carp
by the back of the head!
Once when I was married I went out in the yard.
It was the night of the Winter Solstice and well below zero.
The stars were so close they burned my cheeks!
I must have gone into a trance, I started shouting something about the Walls of Jericho
and the Holy of Holies.
My wife thought she heard a lion roaring under the chinaberry trees.
She came outside and caught me with my hands raised up to the sky.
She asked me what I was doing but I didn’t know
so I gave her the look I had learned in college from a girl who used to stare
in peoples’ eyes and say, ‘I see Jesus Christ in you.’
I gave my wife that look and said
‘A freezing man will try to warm his hands on the stars.’

For a moment I was a hermit whirling in a mountain cave and I knew
what I was saying was the truth.
It may have been the cold talking. It may have been the cold whispering
a secret to the back of my head.”

The man turned back to the window and with the nails of his right hand scratched
through thick  frost, leaving his mark on the pane.
He showed his nails to the woman and said

“Ice is the purest form of water.”

.

.

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