Iowa Writes

SHERYL ST. GERMAIN
What You Can See Mid-Winter in the Midwest


Today, three years sober, eyes burning with a white as cold and unforgiving as an unwritten poem, I walk into my backyard. Snow, snow, and more snow. What’s new. White, white, and more white until I think I will die of this whiteness, this unwanted guest that will not leave.

But wait.

Wait. Look harder. Stay longer, I tell myself. The dark brown bones of the swamp rise to the south out of reach of snow and then fall back, clean, pure, and budless as a good line of prose. The brown stalks of coneflowers still stand; the elderly of the garden, they will fall with the first wind. Their stalks look like dark lines that have forgotten where they’re going. Stripped of petal and color, dark seed pods hold on like iron; it’s the way I find myself holding on to the days as they stay white and cold and do not change.

Thistle and black sunflower seeds pepper the ground under the feeder, proof of the frenzied feeding the birds have done these last days of subzero temperatures and thick snow cover, a small piece of chaos in all this sobriety. The bird bath stands, useless, a sad gray monument filled with frozen water, snow on top like icing on a cake you cannot eat.

Today, three years sober, eyes burning with a white as cold and unforgiving as an unwritten poem, I walk into my backyard. Snow, snow, and more snow. What’s new. White, white, and more white until I think I will die of this whiteness, this unwanted guest that will not leave.

But wait.

Wait. Look harder. Stay longer, I tell myself. The dark brown bones of the swamp rise to the south out of reach of snow and then fall back, clean, pure, and budless as a good line of prose. The brown stalks of coneflowers still stand; the elderly of the garden, they will fall with the first wind. Their stalks look like dark lines that have forgotten where they’re going. Stripped of petal and color, dark seed pods hold on like iron; it’s the way I find myself holding on to the days as they stay white and cold and do not change.

Thistle and black sunflower seeds pepper the ground under the feeder, proof of the frenzied feeding the birds have done these last days of subzero temperatures and thick snow cover, a small piece of chaos in all this sobriety. The bird bath stands, useless, a sad gray monument filled with frozen water, snow on top like icing on a cake you cannot eat.

I can barely tell the location of the garden, which is also covered with snow, though I can guess it because the butterfly bush and stalks of mint are still visible. I mark it out and know that when the snow melts I’ll plant three kinds of basil, parsley, peppers, tomatoes. I know that mint and four kinds of thyme will come back in the spring; their roots still love under the snow. Like me, they’re just waiting for sun.

A sea of green along the back side of the house: junipers, mint green, blue green, silver green, water green, the green of Lorca, lines the western border of the yard. I planted it this summer. To the north, pine and spruce, the green of Christmas.

The cottontail that ate my lettuce this fall sleeps, curled near the back of the house. I see a feather, dark blue against the snow. I see tracks of squirrel and rabbit and dog, silver-blue and blazing on the snow where they’ve melted and refrozen, melted and refrozen. I see the weakness of the structure of my house—how all the snow falls off the steep roof to one part where much of it turns to ice and swells the gutters, melts and refreezes on the back porch where I cannot open the door because of the ice. I’m sure my gutters will soon fall from the weight of the ice.

All of this I see, and I see it because of the snow and its dark sister: a kind of brutal cold that stings and slaps you awake when you walk out into it, a cold I swear I can see, the way you can sometimes see the cold water someone splashes on your face to wake you from a drunken reverie.

For just that moment you can remember everything.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


SHERYL ST. GERMAIN

Originally from New Orleans, Sheryl St. Germain taught at Iowa State University for seven years and now directs the MFA program in creative writing at Chatham College. Her latest book, Let It Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems, is forthcoming from Autumn House Press. “What You Can See Mid-Winter in the Midwest” was first published in the anthology In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland, edited by Becky Bradway (Indiana University Press).

Sheryl St. Germain's website

This page was first displayed
on March 17, 2007

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