Poetry

If the Blackbird Can Sing in the Dead of Winter

A tree with bare branches against a gray winter sky.

It’s been a post-apocalyptic winter around here,
the sun smothered by ash-gray rags sodden with snow,
the snow wrung out on our heads by the bony hands
of Arctic winds. Some ancient ice god wants us dead,
judging by the icy daggers he hangs around our houses.
At night, he presses his face against the black windows
and claws at our blankets with his frostbit hands; 
if he can’t have us dead, he’ll bury us alive,
throwing a white pall over everything that breathes.

Even so, this morning I woke and went walking 
along the icy shore — warm blood beating,
warm breath freezing in great clouds
rising — white, wind-shredded flags
marking my progress through the wasteland:
ice and snow crushed, crushed, crushed
under my boots.

There, on the highest black branch of a skeletal tree — 
a lone blackbird, singing into the wind. I lift my head, 
then my hand: the salute of a fellow comrade-in-arms.
If the blackbird can sing in the dead of winter,
then why shouldn’t I march into the teeth of the battle?
Let the ice gods roar; today, we raise our own blade,
singing our warm-blooded song.


About the poem

I began this poem after walking along Lake Winona on a particularly bitter day in the dead heart of winter (I took the accompanying photo along the way). I had the idea for the poem after hearing the song of a single bird— the only sign of life that day. I wrote the first stanza when I returned from the walk, but couldn’t think how to finish the poem until I dug it up again this week. Maybe I needed to actually live into the spring to imagine the ending?

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