The woman’s wrist

Warmth layered under still chilly air, like a woman’s wrist flashing free of its sleeve. Yesterday’s sudden spring snow has all melted away. Even though the air under the shadows has a forbidding bite, people take off hats and jackets and even sit on the lawns, in full sun, as content as if this were an equatorial beach and not the mercurial transition from winter to spring in New England.

I’ve woken up to birdsong every morning since Saturday, song before the full happening of dawn. Notes suspend in the cerulean glow, astonishingly loud and bright. I can’t quite believe that spring has arrived, again, not as a gradual thaw but more like a violent rupture. For weeks, there were no birds and there was no warmth. Then on a day unexpectedly, there was not simply one song or one bird, but a chorus of them, breaking the blue quiet into tens of dozens of brighter shards. Snow receded by the hour, watering the streets and churning to mud on the campus quads.

Robins in the yards, crocuses up through the grass. Gloves left at home, and the thin hunkered endurance required to get through the winter months shrugged off like a coat. I open and close my bare hands as I walk down the street, as if I could grasp the warmth, elusive but tangible, slipping through them.

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small stone (268)

Bright morning. The snow-crust breaks under my feet to the powder below. Someone else’s bootprints lead out to the garden, but don’t return.

a psalm for winter

I cried unto God with my voice,
even unto God with my voice;
and he gave ear unto me.

December. A wind snuffling at the windows and a cold in the bones. The long rain-slick steel of fall has now given way to the white-mottled slate of winter. Snow is falling in a day-long carpet, deepening its pile even now. The solstice approaches, too, the little new year.

I call to remembrance my song in the night:
I commune with mine own heart:
and my spirit made diligent search.

American school, with its dimly remembered but nonetheless institutionalized relationship to agricultural cycles, starts the new year in the fall. Summer in the US is a time of nostalgia, then; the end of the long vacation, and whatever mishaps, adventures, romances, and idylls occupied the season become the stuff of excited first-month-back chatter and communal mythologizing. Summer and its aftermath were an odd combination of personal and public in that way. In Korea the school year began in spring, however, for whatever reasons. I never asked why. But that meant that the rupture and transition between one phase and the next happened in the coldest season, was salted not with sweat or beach-sand, but with the icy burn of snow and under the dark anvil of long nights. Summers are redolent of dandelions and wet grass and ozone after rain. They exude, sprawl over the months with long undressed brown limbs. Winters are enclosed, gestational, interior–and increasingly private, happening for me in solitudes both physical and spiritual. Winters close in on themselves like a light narrowing in a hall. Marking transitions in the winter, rather than the summer, has produced in me an intense interiority and privacy, above and beyond what winter normally provokes.

And I said, This is my infirmity:
but I will remember the years
of the right hand of the most High.

The fall is over. The hectic, embattled, thrilling avalanche of fall is coming to a close. I packed the semester with all that I could stuff into the broad golden mouth of its sack. Now that season has finally fallen slack, and winter has arrived with its end. The tests are taken. The last activities are done. Letters are being sent, parties have been had, a general tidying and dusting of life is underway in the days remaining before the solstice, and for me, a departure to Korea for the month.

Thy way is in the sea,
and thy path in the great waters,
and thy footsteps are not known.

Patterns and habits prevail: I continued to hum Christmas carols every December I spent in a monastery, and outside the monastery, I continue to honor with remembrance an older and slower cycle of the year. I love this lull between solstice and lunar new year. The world still wrapped in cold and dark, the heart still tending toward a stillness and a silence, magnified by and magnifying the held hush outside.

Psalm 77, KJV