Waking in Winter









In the graying sky and the barn owl’s rough-edged wing,

in the field mouse’s rising scream,

in one knuckled moment between sleep and waking,

I slip from this cold bed to memory, to streets swabbed old pewter

and steam billowing from the oil-slick manhole covers.


I’d go to those grates for their dank warmth

lowering myself one slippery ladder rung at a time

into the breathing, clanking womb of the earth.

The tunnels stank of gas and old sweat and piss

but also, like in this torn and crumpled greenhouse,

of water and moldy dirt.


Even so, why does my mind carry me there now

other than the burnt end of another year, a century stubbed out?

Though I’ve risen from the steam tunnels

under the gray-hooded stare of a hungry day,

risen and can say puddles trap the moon in their icy mirrors

and mackerel-dappled horses chew stalls to splinters

in the jewel boxes of their mouths

while luna moths wait cocoon-curled in broken branches and leaves,

my body knows the true scope of winter.


Pain scurls up from my swollen ankles

and lightning-blasts my scarred back,

the early soot-shot sky squeezes down

over the stuttering pulse of the pond

where buried turtles, frogs, and snakes coil close against the cold.


So I’m homeless again though this time with an army cot

and a rope dangling from the greenhouse’s steel rods.

The rope I pull myself up with deliberate hand

over hand, as each spasmed pain scurries

the blue flutter of my soul to wait outside myself

and the sky empties and the billions of small lives wait

huddled in hunger’s claw.


So much loss

still the snow shudders and its heart beats once again.


Photo By: GollyGforce


About Author

Judy Jordan’s first book of poetry, Carolina Ghost Woods, won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as the Utah Book of the Year Award, the OAY Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. Her second book of poetry, Sixty Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance, was published by LSU press. Jordan’s third manuscript, Hunger, which is about the two years she spent in semi-homelessness living in a greenhouse is at LSU press and she just completed a fourth book of poetry. Jordan built her own environmentally friendly house out of cob and earthbag while living in a tent, founded SIPRAW, which rescued dogs out of puppy mills, lives off the grid, is a vegan, and teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

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