“Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”
― Virginia Woolf, “Jacob’s Room”
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
My sister is in Italy; our daughter is planning a tropical getaway.
But I do not envy them their pretty piazzas or sun-warmed sands;
languid gondola rides and swim-up bars;
trees with leaves; birds that trill sweet melodies,
rather than rooting through frozen garbage.
Hulking black bags hunch despondently on dirty snowbanks,
waiting to be tossed into the cavernous maw of the big green truck;
chewed up, digested, spat out.
Meanwhile, the sagging sacks are spied and prized
by saucy cackling crows,
sharp-eyed and malicious,
who rip at them with razored beaks and claws,
strewing things into the snow that should remain unseen:
tangles of grubby vegetable peels and ends of moldy cheese,
a tin of tomato paste, blackened now around the edges,
bloodied netting that once swaddled a leg of lamb;
A mass of green slime
formed from rotting fresh herbs,
now long past their prime.
Spatters and tatters tossed upon the dirty snow.
But I do not despair.
In February this is a short-lived drama;
a temporary trashing.
For, without fail, fresh snow will fall,
covering up the nasty garbage-bin bits
and everything else in the yard
and in your immediate field of vision.
Nothing but white upon white upon white;
the backyard full of drifts like insipid meringue,
sneaking and snaking over everything.
Cloying and cloaking,
suffocating the gardens and creeping ever closer
to the tops of tables and chairs.
Hell-bent on concealing everything in sight,
leaving nothing, save the shed,
free from its enveloping embrace.
No, I would not give this up — never.
Not for anything.
Not for bistros and buskers.
Not for surf. Not for sun or sand.
Not for ancient architecture, nor the exotic music of foreign tongues.
No, giving up one grey dark day in February
is more sacrifice than should be asked of anyone,
selfish as that may sound.
And we have not even paid homage to the wind.
The cutting, biting February wind,
the one that stings your eyes,
steals breath from your lungs,
with greedy, incessant ferocity.
Chills your flesh, numbs your fingers, your nose.
The wind that never sleeps, relentless and raging,
rattling windows and thrashing trees,
shrieking and moaning and howling in the night
like a tortured soul that cannot find rest,
and would deprive you of yours.
Tossing trash cans and shovels like feather pillows,
ripping siding from buildings and toppling trusses and roofs
like an ogre snapping matchsticks.
Sending frigid gusts through foundation cracks
and windowsills, freezing locks with its wintry breath,
keeping you shivering outside on your doorstep,
fiddling with the unyielding lock, the icy key;
finally putting it into your mouth to warm it,
the dull metal taste like blood on your tongue.
And there’s the sleet, the indefatigable sleet
that whips your face like a cat o’nine tails,
lashes the dog as you try to walk around Quidi Vidi,
quickly coating the path, the bushes, the trees
in a perilous grip of glitter.
Daring you to make one wrong step,
one fatalistic footfall.
To find yourself briefly, surprisingly airborne
before being body-slammed to the cold ground.
It’s a sleet that sends ducks scurrying, heads down, huddled;
makes gulls muddled, squawking and screeching overhead.
A sleet that coats houses and cars,
swing-sets and benches.
Everything perfectly preserved under a thin frosty armour.
Life as you left it, now sealed in ice.
Not Pompeii, but a kind of purgatory just the same.
No, I would not part with this,
The frigid ferocity, the blight of blizzards.
No one could tempt or persuade me,
or make me abandon
the bitter barbarous hell
that is St. John’s in winter.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor.