Cold Snap

Paulette Roeske


[Table of Contents]
[Editor's Note]

A man I know is out in it, bent
on a senseless errand. He chafes his hands,
mutters into his frozen beard. If
he returns, he will tell stories
of pigeons fallen like stones
from their perch under the El
while wondering whether I would mourn
his passing.

In the news, a woman's frozen to her floor
in the usual attitude of prayer. Taking her
for dead, the medics joke over a joint
while they chip at the ice. Consider
their surprise when she mumbles an invocation
to whatever saint knows firsthand
cold that cuts to the bone.
When he appears, she holds out a hand
she expects to be taken.
The medics, who think she is waving, wave back,
although she has already boarded a ferry
to nowhere they can imagine.

Hearing this, I wish for his return, sorry
for my small cruelties, willing,
after all, to run out across the frozen ruts,
my breath draping the air like a white flag of surrender,
bitter air biting the soft, pink, uninitiated
tissue of my lungs, run until I trip. One knee
addresses the unyielding ground.

In this version, it's night—a starless field.
Still kneeling, I wait for him to appear,
take me up and hold me close enough
to hear my heart longing to escape its own longing,
choosing to believe
I have found the excuse I needed
to kneel before him
who long knelt before me.




"Cold Snap" was first published in The Madison Review, and reprinted in Anvil, Clock & Last (Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 2001).


Paulette Roeske is the author of four collections of poetry, including Anvil, Clock & Last, published by Louisiana State University Press in 2001, and Divine Attention (LSU, 1995), which won the Carl Sandburg Book Award for Poetry. Her poems have been published in Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. Bridge of Sighs, her collection of stories, won the Three Oaks Prize in Fiction and will be published by Story Line Press in the fall of 2002. Currently Roeske teaches at the University of Southern Indiana.