Winter is a desert

Cara - ice
Photograph by Cara Walton Photography

“Fear death by water”

the poet said,

but out here

in January—

February closing in—

the thought is laughable.

If Ophelia had slipped

into a cattle pond

she’d have had to time it right,

go under before first freeze

trapped last escaping breath,

a mercury sphere

bright against black ice.

I see her sometimes,

dark strands of hair

indistinguishable

from surface cracks

on days when air

is desert-dry

and flannel crackles lightning

between cooling sheets.

I see her in streamlets,

creeks run down

from mountain hollows,

hollow-eyed people,

hollow hands

grown sere and withered

by winter’s blast.

Those are pearls

that were her eyes—

hard smooth dry—

her fingers brittle twigs,

a crown of frost

ossified to quartz.

This wilderness time of year

tree roots curl like toes

against the frigid ground,

pipes freeze solid,

and death by water

is a consummation

devoutly to be wished.

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