Elegy Where the Snow Speaks its Own Name

Matthew Wimberley


Here I can descend into the spiral of briars
and disappear.
If there is anything to show you
in the ideograms
slipped from the corner of a horse’s mouth
as cold spangles of frost-light
it is the way the moon is
an upturned keel the color of used chalk, or
the insouciance of scattered river birch
which must be sleeping now
lined up in the air—
and the horse’s breath
becoming my own name, unthreading
the dark. Once, in adolescence
driving forty minutes to school
I remember the long line of fire
burning the top of a gorge
and a hawk circling overhead
wings spread in smoke
and the candor the morning sky made of each feather
patterned like pages. Once
on a Friday night, I walked the quiet street
through the center of town, past the little gas station
with two working pumps and overheard
someone singing behind the garage door—
some simple tune which sounded sad
like laughter, how it can’t last.
If I loved anything then, it is a girl I never slept with
the shade of her freckles
as I lifted her blouse over her head
in the backseat of my car, with only one light
from an empty tennis court cast across
our faces. I wont think
of her fine touch
on my hands as I drove her home a last time
or the way she picked a few daisies
and held them beside her eyes before placing them
in her hair—I won’t think of them
in their short goodbyes. Tonight
from this side of the ridge
I can step across the late fallen snow
speaking its own name under
my boots—because I hear it
there is nothing else to be said.
I walk down the open rows of a horse stable
where nothing moves except
wind strumming the abandoned flies
wrapped in the torn web
of a barn spider, adding their pallid blue
to the brown boards, a dull hush
strewn over them—the ringing of summer
and their whorled flight and constant buzzing
locked in darkness now. I think it is all lost—the gravel roads
paved over a mile at a time, the walls
of a church in Foscoe overcome with fire
on the coldest night of the century,
and reduced to cinders
and how alike the ash from the hymnal is
to ash from a child’s drawing.
That night, who witnessed the shingles reveal flame
which resembled quick insignias
and stood in the cold air, in disbelief or awe
waiting for the bright sirens to appear?
Now that the embers have cooled
and because it could all go away
and because I feel it on my neck
there is one thing I want to remember
for the rest of my life about wind—
how it moves through the branches
a kind of shuffle across a tennis court
no one sets foot on after dark.