Thinking of Death and Winter

Looking out of my window, watching the soft snow-flakes gliding on bare twigs, I think of death, of my nana, and of his living moments. For some strange reason, it becomes impossible for me to separate my memories of him from the rural landscape that lent meaning to his life. The coarse barks of the tall trees outside my window and the lush green fields of my nana’s village form part of a whole in which his body and nature become interchangeable. The more I think of death, the more I think of nature, of the landscape that defined his life. His life consisted of ordinary hopes and hopelessness – rain, flood, drought, and a good harvest. Nature, seasons of nature, cycles of seasons, and my nana’s life and death in that cycle – that is all I can think of sitting miles away from where he is buried. The snow-flakes capture ephemerality of life and express calmness that he must have experienced before melting into the landscape that once nourished him.

Wintry Sleep

Dry brown twigs, calloused fingers
thick, bony, rough
flaky skin, fallow land
memories of rain, flood, drought
harvest, a handful of rice

Thick toe-nails, the dirt underneath
yellowing, color of autumn leaves
sun-drenched brass skin
coarse barks of an ancient tree
covering ancestral bones

Bones, soil, sod
fallow land the color of skin
desire for a handful of earth
embalmed in sleep
soft snow-flakes on bare twigs

[First published in Asia Writes Project (http://www.asiawrites.org/2011/02/featured-poem-wintry-sleep-by-mosarrap.html) on 10 Feb, 2011]

Another example: Claudia’s comparison of her father, Mr. MacTeer’s face to the winter landscape in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) comes to mind:

“My daddy’s face is a study. Winter moves into it and presides there. His eyes become a cliff of snow threatening to avalanche; his eyebrows bend like black limbs of leafless trees. His skin takes on the pale, cheerless yellow of winter sun; for a jaw he has the edges of a snowbound field dotted with stubble; his high forehead is the frozen sweep of the Erie, hiding currents of gelid thoughts that eddy in darkness. Wolf killer turned hawk fighter, he worked night and day to keep one from the door and the other from under the windowsills. A Vulcan guarding the flames, he gives us instructions about which doors to keep closed or opened for proper distribution of heat, lays kindling by, discusses qualities of coal, and teaches us how to rake, feed, and bank the fire. And he will not unrazor his lips until spring” (62).

There couldn’t have been a better example of the interweaving of winter and human body struggling to keep death at bay. In my case, I am not thinking of the possibility of warding off death. Rather, winter reminds me of the calmness that death can bring if it means melting into the land one loves!

(Thanks to my wife, Mary Ann, for bringing Toni Morrison’s passage to my attention!)

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