“Poems in Winter” by Tom Wayman

Willow Springs 89

Found in Willow Springs 89

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Darkness permeates these poems

as though each constituent word

was derived or descended from

the Latin or Old Norse for


death, grief, loss,

discouragement. No matter how beautiful

the poem’s subject

—early twilight with chimney smoke rising


vertically into crystalline air,

or at first light along the river,

birch and aspen branches sketched

in hoarfrost—a bleakness


is subsumed: the perilous layer of ice

created by a freeze/thaw cycle

hidden beneath

the snow covering the road.




Despite the glacial air, and windchill,

the poems spend much time outside:

snow must be removed


from the laneway to the house

that shelters these words, to ensure a connection

to highway and town. Paths



to shed and barn need to be excavated

through the drifts. Wood used for the furnace

that heats the poems’ dwelling


must be wheelbarrowed into the basement

from tarped stacks. Ski and snowshoe trails

can be followed across meadows and


forested slopes. Yards can be flooded

or ponds found on which

skating rinks are fashioned.


Indoors, as the day starts to falter

before the afternoon has hardly settled in,


the slow descent of the minutes

the poems experience


matches the steady deliberate snowfall

which accompanies evening’s arrival.


Each moment within these rooms

weighs more than an instant’s size


would suggest: its mass,

dense as a neutron star,


contains a particle of solidified time

at its core. For a poem to speak amid


such heaviness is wearying. Also, the warmth

that buffers the poems against


the night beyond the walls

is soporific. Even desk and chair


urge the poems to sleep, sleep.

The book falls from the hand



to the blanket, the light

goes out.




The poems know much about

their season: how snow

vanishes from the boughs of spruce and pine

at two degrees above freezing. How smoke

streaming southward from the houses

means deeper cold is coming.

How a stretch of asphalt

shadowed by cutbank or thick grove of cedar and fir

is most prone to be slippery.


How an austere beauty

is difficulty’s true reward.


How to live

as though spring will never reappear.




Whatever the poems say,

chickadee and pine siskin within them

mob the suspended bird feeder.


Ravens complain as they

flap strenuously above the house

or a summit ridge.


An eagle perches

just below the top of a hemlock

and thinks


or floats high over the white forest

of a valley wall. At dawn

or when dusk begins to infiltrate the afternoon,


wisps of fog

lift from the river’s surface.

Mist can also fill the day:


behind the closest fir and spruce,

flat jagged tops of other evergreens

recede in rows to invisibility.




After the tumult of dreams:

the bedroom calmed by

morning snowlight.


After the tumult of spring,

summer, fall:





These poems’ subtext

is a valley that twists between range after range

of cedars and firs, each green bough

bearing the white mark of the season.

Rock faces are scored by

columns of frozen water

alongside ledges that support

mounds or skiffs of snow.


This landscape utters a single trumpet’s

wail—plaintive, dreamy, lingering—

a sound that threads through

the myriad notes of gently lowering



Yet anything done in winter

mars snow’s perfection.


Sound of the plow truck

scraping the night; tracks of a rabbit


that skirts the house unseen.

Roof shingles exposed


closest to the chimney; icicles

daggering down from the eaves.


Sand mixed with salt on the roads

so a world built for


the absence of snow

can continue, can pass by.




The poems are convinced

winter is poetry’s season.


Soon poems will take shape, however,

that have never known a winter.

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