Walking home in the first hard freeze
with ice building in layers on the slick surfaces
of roads and bridges, my breath plumes
before me and I cough on the brittle air.
I tread on the safer grass-lined ditch,
the creek bank’s thick mud, stiff like setting plaster.
The sun fades behind the trees, and I am insular,
wrapped in a dim, sky-heavy day and counting
the weeks until spring unlocks winter’s heavy door.
When the forecast calls for the worst,
I let the tap in the stainless steel sink
run all night and I dream of songbirds,
warblers and orioles, their pipe-cleaner legs
trapped on iced-over branches, too exhausted
to do anything but sing. Their orange
and yellow feathers drop to the snow–
false flames I gather in my bare hands
and bring to my mouth in hunger.
I wake to the sound of the water heater kicking in,
to the metallic bite of birch bark and rust in my throat.
—from Rattle #19, Summer 2003