Thursday, January 5

The Point of Roughness

Midwinter spring is its own season, each day in grey and smoky green on muddy snow marching in sodden boots toward the solstice. It's cold in small bites, then suddenly warm, every breath of air fastening its teeth in a lover's ear, whipping loose hair across the face, then the shock of ice down the neck.

It is a fleeting season, fleeing before the gnawing specters of the longest night, the coldest months.

There is a hedge along the hill, still green against the rocky drifts, and it is covered in the wind's scattered offerings, blossoming not with petals but perfect geometric crystals. If you came this way, taking the route you would be likely to take, from the place you would be likely to come from, you might never notice the difference. This is the hedgerow that held out handfuls of honeyed blossoms in the hot summer when we said goodbye.

It is not the end of the world. That lies in England, or so I am told, by many a poem and song, somewhere behind a headstone, somewhere in the fog of the night's passing. Somewhere in the mist let out like the breath of green and living things. And there are other places, which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws, or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city, but this is not why we are here, not something to speak in words on the shortest day of the year.

So we go behind the hedge, past the rocks in the hill, crooked old teeth of the earth standing still in a cast circle. Taking the hand of the person next to you in your own is an act of contrition, tribute paid to the dead shaking and sweating under our feet.

There, yes, there and then, what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead:

The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. They whisper their threats, only just inaudibly, into the black and terrible night. We refute them with our pulse, with the song of living breath, with our stories and laughter held bright against Godfather Death.

We will speak of their dim lands someday, surely, but not today. Today we keep vigil for the extinguished sun, the brightness descendent into the underworld to speak with the dead in our place. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment between one year and the next, one inhalation of deep night exhaled into blue-banded dawn, inhaling: never. Exhaling: always.

So it goes, never and always. Earth and air, fire and water, incense rising from a burning cup into the last pale stars. The inexorable dead are silent for another three-quarter turn, the dead who rattle their bones against the dreams of held hands and gentle kisses. Implacable and resolute and tasting of despair.

Silent, yes, the dead may be, but they still make their motions in my sleep. They dance under my feet and leave me wakeful, wakeful. Thick yarn dangles from wooden needles, and there is Earl Grey tea in a white teapot under the world's blanket of snow, until the winter melts away into spring. I want to grow roses in blue clay pots. I want to write arias, bridges belling, belying the flutter in my stomach, in my heart. Then the newness of the year steals away all the words I might have had.

Summer has never returned the favor of my vocabulary, even in the Communion chalice of red-staining blackberries, hand-picked from martial canes, the juice mixed with blood from thorn-pricked fingers. I dance with the dead and hold silence in my heart.

There are reasons, but what they were I cannot say. They rely upon words I can not now speak in any comprehensible fashion, for last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with "New Year's resolutions - your own or a story about keeping or breaking resolutions."

The italicized lines are taken from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," the fourth of Four Quartets.