This marks my tenth year of writing a weekly Back Then column for The Smoky Mountain News. In all that time I have belabored neither editors nor readers with my poetry. Brace yourselves. The time has come. It is winter and it is cold and this is when I read and write poems. Herewith are several winter poems, dating back to 1977. Some day, if I get around to it, they might appear with others in a collection of personal essays and poems as well as line drawings by my wife titled “Permanent Camp.” These will depict random aspects of life in a somewhat remote cove situated a few miles west of Bryson City.
That old reprobate told his friends:
“Don’t come in winter!”
But he’d grin his toothless grin
and clap his hands and dance in the snow
way up there in the swirling mists
when anyone came to see him.
Well, we like friends, too.
And we’ll drink your wine with glee.
But what we will look for here in the lamplight
is the sparkle in your eyes.
Season of Light
Windowpanes gleam in winter.
Dark branches and twigs stand uplifted
crosshatched against the blue sky.
Snow-covered mountains emerge from the
swirling mists and move closer,
seemingly within reach.
Forgotten patterns and textures emerge.
Now is the time for seeing.
Do Not Neglect the Winter Months
Solitude is surer then.
The body of the land is laid bare.
Gray boulders await with somber intensity.
Each trail has an entity best realized in winter.
Sitting here at the kitchen table writing this for you
I think of Deeplow Gap . . . a notch in Thomas Divide.
Not far. I go there often, walking or in my fancy.
Oh, I could tell you all about it, how I see it.
But for you it will be different.
Essence arises from the manner of coming and going.
Go light. Don’t walk fast. Savor the cold.
Even in Winter
Stones in the creekbed
will speak to you quite clearly
in praise of water.
The creek is frozen.
All this clothing and still I shiver.
The goat rattles loose boarding behind the shack.
A decayed tree on the ridge gives way under ice.
Peering into the mirror by lamplight
I see the mole splotch spreading on my right cheek
and the gray hairs spurting from my nostrils.
There is no occasion for talk.
At 10 below there is a silence that is not solitude.
Frost flowers etch darkened window glass.
The woodstove leaks the light of a million poems.
But you are beyond all words
transported by the cold.
And what a fine thing
to kneel and blow the coals
just to see the embers glow,
when suddenly the kettle boils.
After the long cold siege it warmed today.
Sun in a haze. The surface of the ice slurred
at noon but solidified by 3:00. I spent my day
in the yard, gathering scattered piles
of horseshit into one large pile. At first
I tried shoveling, but the frozen balls rolled
frustratingly away, here and there.
So I scooped them up with my bare hands.
They looked like ... like frozen horseshit.
And that’s the way I feel.