by Sierra Golden
Months after the neighbors piled their firewood
tall as the windows, wide as the house, and strung
brown plastic between the pine trees, protecting
their winter heat and blocking my view,
it snows, and in the morning, the tarp-tented
heaps of uncut logs appear suddenly beautiful.
Just a fine shake of flakes shining in the sun,
tree-drips pattering on plastic, and I am in love
for a moment, thinking, Is this how a poem happens?
One day I sit in bed past any reasonable hour,
and finally stop thinking about the neighbors
stealing my view, about everything needing doing
or undoing: the dishes, my taxes, the mess I made
with my exes. Seeing the sap-leaking stacks of wood
as if for the first time, some part of me collapses—
maybe my work ethic? Personal aesthetics?
Moral standards? Whatever it was, wherever it stood
inside me opens, letting in what little light there is.
From The Slow Art. Bear Star Press, 2018.
I am always on the lookout for moments of sudden attention in my life like the one Sierra Golden describes so vividly in “Winter Heat.” Like her, I believe that this is how a poem happens: some sound or image observed in stillness shifts something inside us, and we do our best to find the language to capture that unexpected change in perception. Any piece of writing, though, is simply a snapshot of our minds, hearts and environment in any given instant, and the source of that glimpse is perhaps better left unexamined, kept in the realm of the mystery that is our unique creativity.
In this case, the speaker faces a more literal loss of perspective, the neighbors having “blocked her view” with their tarp-strewn piles of firewood. But one winter day, she is finally able to see the beauty in the snow-dusted scene (“I am in love/for a moment”) without any of her old story lines or preferences laid over what is right before her. She’s at last able to stop focusing on “everything that needs doing/or undoing,” and allow herself to slip into what Virginia Woolf once called simply “a moment of being.” Golden is a master at capturing these instances of deep attention, and in language as lush and physical as the natural world she brings to life so well in her work. This poem shows us that, no matter the view, no matter the weights of tasks that threatens to steal our mind space, we can make peace with exactly where we are, sitting “in bed past any reasonable hour,” and finally letting go of the so-called logic that can easily muffle our inner lives.