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by Janice Gould

Snow had fallen during the night,
snow on snow. The streets were white and muffled,
and hard banks had piled up along the sidewalks,
on the boulevard where city buses chuffed to a stop.
It seemed we disembarked into caves of ice,
into dirty passages broken through by passersby
heading for home after the five o’clock
rush from downtown.

I liked the snow, the way the city slowed
to accommodate Nature
who slid her hand over the Northwest,
from Puget Sound
to the Willamette Valley,
from Tillamook to Hood River,
until fields, forests,
the rounded hills and orchards
all lay in a deep frosty dream:
ponds frozen over,
cattails split like cornhusks,
horses in pastures,
breath steaming, icicles
hanging from their shaggy coats.

The morning after the snow
it was just growing light.
And probably for the first time
I saw two adults in love.
He had walked out from their basement apartment,
laughing as he pushed through
that trench of cold powder,
a stocky black man
in a bus driver’s uniform.
She was at the door, laughing with him,
her blonde hair disheveled,
her face puffy.
She smoked a cigarette, he held
a cup of coffee.
Before quite reaching the street
he had come back to kiss her.

That is what I saw
as I watched from the window:
him waving to her from the corner
as he strode through the snow,
the fresh swirl blown down like feathers
or like cottony seeds.

That winter, for me,
was a time of transition.
Yet everything seemed to fit together:
how you and I read Cesar Vallejo,
drank strong French coffee,
and ate chunks of bittersweet chocolate.
How the soft sounds of Portuguese
fit in my mouth
as we studied from one of your books.
How every day, downtown, we passed
the blind man who played the accordion,
and the family of women who stood
in a storefront window
at the foot of Burnside Bridge—
women young and old,
their faces hardened,
black hair pulled tight
against their thin heads.
I believed they were gypsies
who could see into my soul.

They would have seen how I
was in love with you,
a girl who was a little crazy,
who had hung her heart
in the icy branches of a tree
beyond the reach of
father, mother, or lover.
How stupidly I behaved with you.
But I was young, frightened,
and also crazy.
I didn’t know the dimensions
of abuse and violence:
I was still unnerved
by the word “lesbian,”
how it began with a shameful lateral,
how the sibilance of its interior
fit against the body with its wetness,
its caverns,
its long dream of winter.

Perhaps that’s why I like
to think of the busman and his woman,
the warmth that flooded out their door
as if they’d stepped from their hot sheets
to the shower, to the breakfast table
with its cups of coffee,
how their flesh was still flushed
with blood and kisses.

I know this now,
the depth of roses, the laughter
that resounds in frozen air,
the first shove through January snowfall.
After years I grew up,
married a woman who isn’t crazy.
I like to imagine how
I’ve come back to kiss her,
time after time on snowy mornings,
her lips warm,
the room steaming,
the smell of sex still in our bed
delicious as sweet rolls and tangerines.

First published in Earthquake Weather, University of Arizona Press, 1996


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