And of the Measure of Winter We Are Sure

(for Miriam Mandel)

You have taken the measure of winter
  with your craft a tree no one could climb
upon your limbs the star-fruit hangs
with the secret buried within
the dark seed
in the centre of your world   molten
red as the moment before darkness
In your lives
the mother took your moods
took your brooding in her
the measured line that broke you

The music sang to your care   the achiote
the sweet despair
the rare fruit that falls in wind

Winter   you have beaten us again
The beautiful dead are lying upon silence
their mouths full of words
of sleep   of caring   of the sweet
prayer they uttered when sound was gone
and the note of release   She
cries on her bed where her body lies
all of her gone but the flesh and the music
as of birds leaving
Ož winter
(I must leave here soon

Questions and Answers

What inspired “And of the Measure of Winter We are Sure”?

Miriam Mandel’s death inspired this poem. I remembered her from a few years before, a dark, winter night, three in the morning, the two of us out night-walking, separate in our fidelities, through the snow in Edmonton, thirty below, a wind, no one else outside, and passing her, our eyes meeting briefly, a nod, and then passing on, the look on her face not one of despair, but of such a loneliness. Yes, that’s why I wrote the poem, remembering Miriam, remembering the hell of an Edmonton winter.

What poetic techniques did you use in “And of the Measure of Winter We are Sure”?

An open field, justified by a rigid left margin, the lines as of footfalls in snow, and the necessary silences when the line drops, the formal space before a white emptiness, as of breathing, a single breath held.

This poem “And of the Measure of Winter We Are Sure” originally appeared in Poetic Form. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 97 (Summer 1983): 34-34.

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