Three Women in Winter


1.  Geraldine Owens

It was 17 below in Minnesota,
but she remembered her birds:
in weather that cold, even crows

wouldn’t survive January.   So
she put on her down jacket
and buckled up good and snug.

The snow had stopped almost
a week ago, but the cold had
deepened   and the ice-bladed air

cut through.   When her boots skidded
on frozen earth   which had no give
left in it   she spilled most of the seed

(thistle and sunflower) though, briefly,
she did save herself   and began to fill
the feeders that hung from rusting brackets

on twin six-foot posts.   Surely, the chickadees
and finches—those that had resisted the drift south—
would recall her diligence   and keep close

but the cold ran deeper than she’d imagined:
on her way back, she couldn’t get up.   After
an hour of silence, birds started singing.

2. Carla Brown

5 degrees in Massachusetts can feel like
a whole row of minuses.   The ice had painted
a thick stripe over the door lock

and sent a film of tougher ice to clasp the tumbler
and hold it fast   so her key wouldn’t work
the door to her home wouldn’t open.

It’s not clear where she had been
in this time of wintry crisis, but it is known
as the cold slowly conquered her

where Carla Brown went next.
At her neighbor’s house, Alice Wagner
refused to answer:

the knock had been disconcerting
muffled   nearly mute.   A woman alone
can’t be too careful

and Carla’s frozen lips had been unable
to call for help.   If only the huddled jays
had squawked in the lindens

or the clustered crows—so raucous
in November—had settled jet-black wings
on the glittering snow

and cawed their end-of-the-old-world hymns,
she might have risen from the sofa
and found Carla at the door.

3. Mary Louise Montevale

Her husband had died in the last days
before Christmas.   What did she know
with him gone?   She had no intimacy

with tools or roof tiles or electricity
and would leave the house dark.
The dark was good for sleeping,

if she could sleep.   At least, she could
lie down.   How would she live
in this place where they’d raised six children?

Who would she cook for now? Better
to do the minimum, to let the house
take care of itself.   The TV was a comfort,

a background voice that reminded her
of family, as long as she didn’t watch it:
when she did, memories would well up:

Louis bringing in firewood while the first snow
fell, his arms burdened but his face alight,
Grace Ann in her communion dress whiter

than star-fire under the glare of the moon,
or Joseph, her husband, driving them
to Vegas, his big hands on the wheel.

How time seemed to slow under the weight
of those images!   So much had changed
since last winter, what could she do but push

out into the weather of this moment,
snow shovel in hand? She would clear the way
to enter the world again.   She would survive.


© Charles Fishman