James Deahl

A Winter Death

After they are dead
We will imagine them alive again
Patrick Lane
(March 1939 — March 2019)

Over a month has passed,
yet ice from a February storm
still imprisons the Chinese elms.
The earth has fallen into a place
where the sun never visits,
where coyotes driven by hunger
ghost past lakeshore farms.

Ash Wednesday brings a season
of Redemption. In the cold it seems
history might be about to speak,
might list our litany of error.
We enter Lent with winter heavy
on our shoulders, and suddenly
the heart stops.

I remember — was it thirty years ago
or 35? — we were to go to the pub,
talk poetry overlooking the winter lake
when you, angered by some fool,
threw on your sheepskin coat,
threw wide the outer door,
and stormed out into the blizzard.

I was unable to see even ten feet
through blowing snow and darkness
as you disappeared,
more metaphor than man,
revealing a vision so savage
everyone feared to follow you.
Your darkness was another kind of night.

A slicing wind off Lake Ontario
drove me back inside. Years would pass
before we saw each other.
Now winter comes again
like a bullet entering the heart
and I live beside a different lake,
more northern, more your kind of place.

Unlike those crows of prophesy,
I have always been too weak
to pick up your truth,
too reluctant to enter your dark solitude.
Yesterday I heard you’d died.
And all the stars stood still
above Huron’s frozen waters.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Deahl grew up in the city and in and around the Laurel Highlands region of the Appalachian Mountains. He moved to Canada in 1970, and holds dual American /Canadian citizenship. Deahl has taught creative writing and Canadian literature and is the publisher of Unfinished Monument Press. He is a founding member of the Canadian Poetry Association.