Grandpa told winter by depth of ice
the crews cut into blocks, to bury deep
in sawdust, lasting, maybe, right up to the Fourth.
He knew to hang a cap on each doorknob,
shielding his young sons’ hands from the sticking
burn, and how to laugh off a river’s ghostly
ice groans, and the sudden snapping boom
of freezing house joists.
My mother told winter by the tonnage of coal
burned and the weight of her father’s overcoat
settled across her shoulder at night, tucked in
to make a wall – Arthur’s Wall. She’d recount
Europe’s bleakest Christmas – 1944 – rivers
freezing and hoarfrost strung along fence and
oaks alike. Brittle times.
My father told winter every winter morning of his
life, according to his bedroom window’s panes,
judging the skating of Jack Frost across the glass.
Six below. Twenty below. More.
He would stand at the window, looking east, fingertips
on the sill, balancing on the precipice of dawn,
watching the sunrise illuminate the fleeting tracery
of cold, calling softly for us to come and see.
Yvette Viets Flaten writes short stories and long historical fiction, and poetry which has appeared in such journals as the Midwest Review, Red Cedar Review, Barstow and Grand, as well as many Wisconsin Poets’ Calendars. “Telling Winter” was published in Avocet in 2012. She was recently interviewed on The Writer’s Almanac, as part of Garrison Keillor’s Pandemic Poetry Contest. Her poem, “Riding It Out,” was one of 10 winners.