Arriving modestly, without a sound,
the first snow of the season fills the night
with tiny flakes of other-worldly light
that settles in pale patches on the ground.
The stone-cold air turns flannel-soft, transformed
by small wet stars that fall and thereby lift
the eye and heart—a fragile, frozen gift
that leaves our spirits fortified and warmed.
Another silent night may come to mind,
another star, another gift, but He
need not be sought as heaven falls to earth
in icy, cloud-spun pieces that will find
the pious and the pagan, equally
anointing all who see the season’s birth.
Is this the ballyhooed beginning cheered
by thousands in Times Square? The favored time
for making resolutions real, the prime
redemptive chance all hailed as midnight neared?
An icebound analyst would give the edge
to pessimists, who know what winter weighs.
With frozen fortitude, can we still raise
a glass to make another New Year’s pledge?
Unfazed, the phoenix rises every year
from ash of Auld Lang Syne into the cold
that somehow goads the spirit into growth.
And January’s dare provokes no fear
in those who toast the future—for they hold
cups full of faith, or foolishness, or both.
He didn’t really turn pale,
nor did his features truly sag,
but as a student of his face
for more than thirty years,
she could see his tiny concessions to fear:
the infinitesimal tightening of his lip,
the slightest darting of his eyes
The smooth-skinned doctor continued his explanations
in shockingly even tones,
unaware that her husband would hear little,
and not sensing the limits of her own capacity
to absorb the particulars of this nightmare
while also throwing her husband the lifeline
of false calm from her faithful eyes.
Several of her vital organs shuddered,
but she could not have said
which shook her more:
her hot dread of imminent loss,
the fire of her readiness for the fight ahead,
or the love
that leapt from eye to eye
in sparks of need and succor.
The doctor’s trained eyes saw none of this,
his prognosis precise but imperfect.
She left at dusk, and though the night grew black,
her path glowed with the neon of temptation,
while other lights warned that she must go back.
His illness tortured both of them: the rack
of duty rivaled dying. Desperation
lit her way out at dusk. The night grew black,
but she walked on, beneath a starry track
she thought might lead to moonlit liberation,
though other lights warned that she must go back.
She strode with vigor, driven not by lack
of loyalty, but by self-preservation
and panic. Yet she saw, as night grew black,
that burnished bonds of love would not grow slack,
and she’d regret abandoning her station;
her better lights insisted she go back.
The faithful heart may cringe, but does not crack
when love inflicts a crushing obligation.
She left at dusk, but as the night grew black,
she saw the light, and turned to hurry back.
The kid’s all nerves and bones; he can’t be older
than sixteen, and you wonder how his shoulder
accommodates that outsized paper clip
of telescoping brass. His peach-fuzzed lip
meets mouthpiece metal like a dew-rimmed rose
obliged to kiss a drainpipe, and he blows.
Prepared for splattered squawking, you’re astonished
by bells of blossom, painstakingly polished:
the kid can play. His honeyed amber settles
your nerves and bathes your bones in dusky petals.
The Mahler Sickness
“I listened to the lovely tunes of Mahler and felt a sickness
in my very soul. Now I pursue money and on the whole feel
better.” Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
Mahler’s gut-tumbling music
may not really have caused a sickness
so much as it exposed one,
which perhaps was less a sickness
than an excruciating nakedness of soul,
and maybe it was not a soul at all,
given its easy appeasement by money.
Arguably, my own sickness
skews my reading of this character.
My immoderate willingness
to let Mahler
tumble my gut
and strip my soul to its raw nerve ends,
along with my unashamed poverty,
make me easy prey
for the lovely, lascivious
Light slips between the slats of bedroom blinds—
white stripes distorting patterns on my quilt,
demanding notice—and so midnight finds
me staring from the back steps. I can tilt
my head or squint and still the circle stays
perfectly round, unfalteringly bright,
the fabled orb in full-disclosure phase,
yet somehow less than perfectly forthright.
What secrets hide within this brilliant sphere
a witch might know, or certain astronauts.
I only stare: a headlight-haunted deer,
a moth enticed by several thousand watts.
Transfixed, I sit awhile, a watchful witness
to night’s iconic glow—well-lit but witless.
Copyright © 2013 Jean L. Kreiling
Kreiling’s poetry has appeared in numerous print and
online journals, as well as several anthologies. She was the
winner of the 2011 Able Muse Write Prize for Poetry, and has
been a finalist for the Dogwood Poetry Prize, the
Frost Farm Prize, and the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award.