Tag Archives: winter

Semi-formal poem: ‘The Viking in Winter’

O it is a wide winter, windy with gales,
Hard, harsh and horizonless, cold,
And I can do nothing more this year
But sharpen the swords, mend the gear,
Mend cloth, patch sails,
Listen to tales told by the old,
Listen to horses stamp in stalls.
Feel the blood in my veins going nowhere,
Feel the river halt, the bay iced in,
The sun brief and thin
The food dried, smoked, salt
And no fresh fruit, fresh meat,
No fresh lands, fresh goods,
No fresh deeds, fresh girls,
No seas running and blood running
And people running and tales running…
For what is the good of inaction
Save to prepare for fresh action;
And what is the good of fresh action
Save for fresh tales;
And what is the good of fresh tales
Save for the glory and the name
And the fame that lives past the death rattle
For the sword singer,
Word winger,
The Bard of Battle?

*****

I feel the same fascinated connection to my Viking ancestors that I feel to my even earlier chimp-like forbears and modern chimp and bonobo cousins. All have social networks, hierarchies, politics, violence and ways of overcoming violence, cherished families, a sense of fairness and ways of cheating. I suspect the Viking gods would be far easier for chimps and bonobos to accept than modern scientific understanding could ever be. I greatly enjoy Vikings, chimps and bonobos, recognise that a lot in me comes from them, and am thankful to have outgrown much of their limitations. (And to neo-Nazis who think they are Vikings, I say this: “You’re not; don’t be so stupid.”)

This rambling semi-formal poem was first published in Snakeskin; thanks, George Simmers!

Icy sea” by piropiro3 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Martin Elster, ‘The Woolly Bear’

Along a sylvan lane, you spy a critter
creeping with a mission, a woolly bear
fattened on autumn flora. So you crouch,
noting her triple stripes: the middle ginger,
each end as black as space. Her destination
is some unnoticed nook, a sanctuary
to settle in, greet the fangs of frost,
then freeze, wait winter out—lingering, lost
in dreams of summer, milkweed, huckleberry.
Though she’s in danger of obliteration
by wheel or boot, your fingers now unhinge her.
She bends into a ball of steel. No “ouch”
from bristles on your palm as you prepare
to toss her lightly to the forest litter.

She flies in a parabola, and lands
in leaves. Though she has vanished, both your hands
hold myriad tiny hairs, a souvenir
scattered like petals. When this hemisphere
turns warm again, she’ll waken, thaw, and feast
on shrubs and weeds (the bitterer the better)
then, by some wondrous conjuring, be released
from larval life. At length she will appear
a moth with coral wings—they’ll bravely bear
her through a night of bats or headlight glare,
be pulverized like paper in a shredder,
or briefly flare in a world that will forget her.

Martin Elster writes: “In the New England autumn, the leaves aren’t the only colorful feature in the landscape. Caterpillars are on the move, so they are more easily chanced on. A few years ago I lived briefly in a mainly rural and hilly town called New Hartford in the state of Connecticut. On my daily walks, I encountered many kinds of animals, including numerous lepidopterans (moths and butterflies), one species of which inspired this poem, an appropriate poem, I think, for late autumn or early winter.
The Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) in its larval form is called the “banded woolly bear” (or “woolly bear” or “woolly worm”). The most remarkable attribute about the little critter is this (from Wikipedia):
“The banded woolly bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. First its heart stops beating, then its gut freezes, then its blood, followed by the rest of the body. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws.”
Covered in thick, fluffy-looking hair, the woolly bear sports bands of black and reddish-brown. There’s an age-old belief that the amount of brown on this critter can predict the severity of the coming winter. The more brown, the milder winter will be.
For the geeks: the rhyme scheme of the first stanza of the poem, similar to the bands on a woolly bear (ABA), is a chiasmus: ABC . . . CBA.

Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, was for many years a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (now retired). He finds contentment in long woodland walks and writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters. His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations. A full-length collection, Celestial Euphony, was published by Plum White Press in 2019.
This poem has appeared in The Road Not TakenAutumn Sky Poetry Daily, and The HyperTexts. His work has appeared in the Potcake ChapbooksCareers and Other Catastrophes‘ and ‘Robots and Rockets‘.

“Banded Woolly Bear (Isabella Tiger Moth) Caterpillar, Virginia” by Dave Govoni is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brian Gavin, ‘Country Church, Family Visit’

On the funeral road, five miles beyond the farm
it looms still, like a silo, then diminishes
as you get close. Your sound won’t raise alarm
out here. There’s none but you. The wishes
of no one left alive will keep you out,
or let you in. The door is probably locked
anyway, closed upon itself, redoubt
for certainties. Surrounding it the block
foundations — reservoirs of ice and weed —
still cluster, like white holes around the heart.
You will not try the door — where it might lead,
you cannot say. The dead have done their part,
for here you are among them once again,
between the legacies of grief — the snow,
the boxes of white quiet, the leaving, then
the watching it loom larger as you go.

Brian Gavin writes: “I like this piece because the church-image haunted (or taunted!) me for several years before I got around to giving it some context in a poem.  When it finally came to the page it felt like I had paid off a debt — like I had finally given the image a chance to tell its story.  The fact that this story turned out to be no story at all — just a bunch of hints and implications — seemed to fit the image.

Brian Gavin is a retired Distribution Manager who started writing poetry about 7 years ago. His poems have appeared in The Journal of Formal Poetry, Peninsula Poets and Snakeskin Magazine, and in the Potcake Chapbook ‘Careers and Other Catastrophes. He lives in Lakeport, Michigan, USA, with his wife Karen.

Short Poem: ‘The Hitchhiker’

Sometimes you’d sell your soul just to get warm! –
Your clothes are rags in the wind, your skin goes blue,
You doubt your mouth can ever smile again;
The lonely world grows dark before the storm
Whose icy rain’s a mile away… and then,
The sun breaks through!

I used to do a lot of hitchhiking – 25,000 miles is my best estimate, on five continents. It can be miserable, it can be ecstatic, but as a way of exploring the world without plans and preconceptions, it’s hard to beat. It used to be safe, then it became unsafe, but now it’s probably safe again – if you send a picture of the vehicle from your cell phone before you get in. Or if you live on an island with no public transportation, where everyone seems to know everyone and it’s just common courtesy to give people a ride.

The poem was published in the now-defunct Candelabrum, a twice-yearly British publication that championed traditional verse through the darkest days of “free verse” from 1970 to 2010. The magazine has ceased publication, but thank goodness the sun has broken through again!

“Winter Road” by ryanmcgilchrist is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘For Peter, Drugged in a Mental Hospital’

In the winter the Interior stops
The shops close
Clocks unwind
Clothes hang frozen on the line.

With the summer tourists gone
Birdsong is ended
The water is locked away in the hills
And the waterfall hangs suspended.

No one takes down the signs that read
“Entering tunnel, remove sunglasses”.
Stopped by the wind at the top of the passes
We look down
On some tiny, frozen, unmoving town,
Down on a land without seed.

The city, car-filled, cascading, bickering,
Seems so long, long ago.
Look down on the river trickling
Through the desert dusty with snow –
The tracks of coyote and deer
Echo the unseen in our own austerity.
Will Spring ever come, here?
In this desolate clarity?
With blossoming fruit trees and softening lakes?

It will, and the snow will be brushed from the sage
But until then the only life that we see
Is:
Giant snowflakes
Lily pads of ice
Flowing down the Fraser to the sea.

In 1975 I had started living in British Columbia (where every landscape is monumental and dramatic), and I was friends with a young man who was in and out of mental hospitals. Under the stresses of university finals and high parental expectations, he had flipped out: as best I remember, he had boarded an airplane that was being cleaned and tried to hijack it from the cleaning lady with a pocketknife. At the time of writing the poem I believed he would work through his mental breakdown and return to a quiet, charming, intelligent existence. Unfortunately that was happening too slowly, and he died a couple of years later in a fire at a halfway house.

The poem was published in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, a British publication that appeared twice yearly from April 1970 to October 2010, dedicated to keeping traditionalist poetry alive through those darkest of poetry decades.

Photo: “ice-pancakes” by JeremyOK is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Winter Night Roads’

Full midnight moon on fields that yield but snows,
Air apple-clean, crisp, sweet
In lungs and nose,
The only sound your feet
Past silent woods –
Inhaling moods and modes
Of midnight roads.

In twenty minutes, you hear only this:
A dog bark twice. An owl hoot once.
A horse snort by a fence.
Some heavy breath behind a hedge: a cow.
A mile away a car’s lights show, then go.
You walk unknown, alone, towards some place
With light and life, perhaps a warm cafe
To make a break in travelling towards day.

This quiet little winter poem (sorry about the timing, Australia…) was first published in The Orchards Poetry Journal. The editors tend toward the bucolic and the formal… but they make exceptions, thank goodness, because this piece is not quite formal. It may be in iambics, but without a pattern to the line length or to what rhyme there is.

But it’s true to the winter outdoor experience–and pleasant enough, so long as you have good boots and adequate clothes!

Photo: “Moonlight” by Jyrki Salmi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: “Seasonal”

When Mr. Warm-as-winter-under-the-covers
Meets Cool-as-summer-in-the-evening-breeze
He’ll spring to leave ideas they could be lovers –
But her thoughts fall away like leaves from trees.

First published in Lighten-Up Online.

Poem: “Smoke on the Wind”

Smoke on the wind
And ice on the glass,
Leaves off the trees
And green off the grass;
Deer in the yard
And wood in the shed;
The end of the old
And a new year ahead.

This was published in The Orchards Poetry Journal, edited by Karen Kelsay Davies. The journal typically appears in June and December, and focuses on previously unpublished formal verse – though it accepts “finely wrought free verse”, and will also republish something that hasn’t appeared online in the past three years.

“Inspired by the small plot of apple trees near Cambridge, England, where writers have gathered for years with their books and pens,” Orchards naturally attracts the bucolic. I find something engaging about the idea of traditional verse in an online format… perhaps “apple” is the link… Anyway, as we bridge the past and the future: Happy New Year!