Thursday, January 6, 2011

Surviving Winter — Elizabeth Garber

This poem helps answer that perennial fear
people worry about when they move to Maine.
How will we make it through the winter?

What It Takes to Get Through the Winter in Maine

We probably wouldn't choose it, staying here all winter,
if we weren't so rooted in like the indigo mussel shells
grasping onto the ledges as the daily tides of winter
wrap and batter and wear us smooth.

The winter is a series of heartaches and reprieves.

It begins with the first cold days that crash in so fast
the last week of August, like a slap to the side of the face,
leaving us bereft, grieving the softly warm luminous days.
Suddenly sobered, we are left facing
what it will take
to get through the winter.

That summer, so sweet, so short, the blue washed light
over the shimmering sea, the blissful handful of days
the waves were warm enough to enter.
Skin alive and radiant, sun filled, granite sparkles illuminating eyes
shining over campfires on evenings that stretch out so long.
Those days when some tender place in us relaxes and trusts
that we are held and supported in this warmth,
as the sea holds us so buoyantly.

Then the spell is broken.
The first cold warning softens soon enough,
but nothing is the same again.
We feel older, wearied, humbled.
This is what winter brings us,
again and again,
tide after tide,
wearing away at us,
teaching us to surrender
to the darkness, the cold, the fear.

Now is the time to gather up what we need
for getting through the winter, and
I don't mean getting the wood in and the house banked,
the windows sealed, the doors muffled.

The winter is a series of heartaches and reprieves,
and each one hits harder than the last,
shearing us as bare as the trees.

We need to stock the root cellar
with enough Ball jars of canned ripe peaches
to open the remembrance of sunlight into dark winter nights.
We need to stock up enough captivating books to draw us
expectantly under our deep covers for the long cold night.
We need to know enough warm kitchens we can step into
where arms will embrace us
and warm voices will rise to surround us.
We need to engage in enough good work that will grasp us strongly
and work us hard and well on days we can't bear another storm.
We need enough music so songs will rise up out of our bellies
and take us singing out into the long icy drive home.
We need enough points of contact that our hold
in the storm will be enough to make it through.

Winter's work is to take us to our greatest fears,
to break us down, and work us hard.
We have to strengthen that muscle
that anchors us to the rock of the winter sea,
holding us steady.

We don’t know if we will be enough to make it through the winter.

This may seem like a warning,
but really, it's winter’s challenge,
an invitation.

Years after writing this poem, it seems the list of what we need
— captivating friends around the kitchen table, playing and singing music,
good food canned for the winter — all of this is what we are gathering
together for our life in Belfast Cohousing.

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