The only light at this hour is the frost dusting the flat December ground. A shoal of thrushes pours off the barn roof, then banks east into the dark of year’s end. Sleepless, I leave my bed and go out under the sycamores into the pull of a grief that often comes late at night. Across my backyard, I feel the cold as it deepens, moving in like a close relative. On nights like this my grandfather lived in his cornfields, setting the fires meant to purify earth for new plowing. What a privacy he enclosed there. He kept his fires small, whispery, their aura no brighter than the underside of a ground dove’s wing. I recall one night watching him, the fires underlighting his face so that he looked like a woodcut. I remember his breath hovering before him like a song for which he had no words. And my song, which I make up tonight out of nothing, I begin to hum as if it could move me toward the light coming on behind the lowest poplar trees, the wind finally bearing away the darkness that is a flock of small birds.
We wake to economical late winter light. Beyond the window we can just make out a few odd details. Dark parts of pine trees holding up ladders of snow. A freeze-frame of three puritanical crows flapping off the pasture’s crust. Nobody else out there. How much of this could we do without? I put on my parka and sweep snow from the back porch. You told me once that on a certain day in November the leaves on gingko trees drop all at once, the way, in this clear air, we’d like to be forgiven. And when the pine boughs let go their soft snow pods, contradicting our stillness, I think again of turning to you, you brushing your hair, you closing around me like a cat.
It started in late afternoon, falling a few hours between rapt hardwoods, graying them until, by supper, they stood like Our Lady holding out her hands to the bare darkness. This morning all I can see is a fine powder — wind sifting through shallow troughs looking for details of the self. Overhead, a congregation of field thrushes mills without purpose. I recall last night’s worry — my life falling in like the roof of an old barn. And now the sycamore’s shade knitting and reknitting my body on the hard ground, never making it whole. Out here in the yard, the snow’s glare makes it impossible to read; St. Augustine’s words are transformed into light. The holy, he says, casts no shadow. When I look up I notice a dozen cedar waxwings assembled in the Lombardy poplar, their inner lives shining.