Incantation #14: An Application to the Season

by Susannah Mandel

Up in New England, people like to say
that after solstice comes a deeper cold,
the heart of winter following the slow
return of daylight. (What they really say
in fact fits into two short pithy lines,
but I can't make that scan into blank verse.
So let it go.)
                       The point — and there is one —
is that the frozen eye of winter lies
in January, not December. Not
December, mind you, when we light the lamps
and deck the pines and windows to ward off
the gods of night and darkness, and the wolf
come out to eat the sun, and who-knows-what —
all those great frozen figures that the Norse
and Teutons tried to keep away with lights
and fires, and the wicked spirits that
the Romans scared away with noisy feasts
on Saturnalia.

       The upshot is,
December's a well-guarded month, lit up
and circled round with fires. After that
is when the real midwinter dark sweeps down.
The freezes come, the snow, the grim black ice.
To make things worse, people take down their lights
and throw away their trees, just at the point
when we could use them most! Ennui sets in.
We start to get worn down. We're starved for light.
We can't believe that spring will ever come
again. And to add insult to it all,
we have no more bright, cheerful holidays
scheduled to help us through! — except for that
depressing shambles called Valentine's Day,
known as the leading cause of suicide
just after Christmas.

       Which is why — although
all things told, January's not so bad
as winter months go — long before the end
has heaved in sight, my patience has run out.
One knows that February lies ahead,
and that we should expect more dark, and cold,
and that the wolves and frozen deities
won't beat their way back home until late March.
(that is, if we are lucky)... all the same,
I miss the flowers, and I want the leaves,
and all the little winds and singing birds
and pink light in the evenings.

               That is why
I'm turning now to you. Oh, season, come!
This cold's gone on too long. From here on in,
you'll find me hanging out my window, eyes
fixed on the east. I'm waiting for the world
to come back into warmth and presence, and
for you to coax us out under the sky again.
I'm sick of winter. I have marched through snow,
I've frozen, I have bundled up, I've sat
up late and written odes to ice and wind,
and chilled myself into sublimity.
I'm calling to you now: Come back, bring back
the sun and all the music, thaw the ground
and my sad heart. I'm waiting here for you,
And I am ready for it to be spring.

Susannah Mandel says: My poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Sybil's Garage, Peter Parasol, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, among others. My short fiction is forthcoming in Shimmer and in the Canadian anthology Escape Clause, and my speculative flash fiction appears regularly at I am a graduate of the Clarion East workshop. I also write a regular column for Strange Horizons on the fantastic in pre-modern literature.

About myself: I hold degrees in English literature and in comparative media studies from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have lived in Boston, northern France, and, most recently, Philadelphia. I have worked in teaching, translation, editing, research and linguistics (as well as a brief stint in pastry retail).

I like, among others, Spenser, Yeats, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, and Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. I subsist largely on apples, to which I have written a trattato d'amore. Unfortunately, I cannot appreciate raspberries due to the way the tiny seeds get stuck in my teeth.

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