Category Archives: Winter

moon with spiky tendrils in a dark sky with silhouetted tree branches

Short Essay: Duet

I fell asleep watching a mindless show on my iPad, woke up an hour later, turned off the iPad, and the light. Eleven p.m. The cat was curled against my side like a cake hot out of the oven. 

Sometimes the cat’s heat wakes me from an initial doze but this was different. I heard a sound outside, an almost-music. I listened and waited until it came again — an owl, a female Great Horned Owl. Her mate joined the song with his lower, darker voice.

The owls must have been just above my room in the tall white pine tree that crowds this side of the house. Even with the windows closed against the cold, their calls were loud through my chronic tinnitus and the glass. I lifted the quilt and sat on the side of the bed to hear better. It was like lowering myself onto the first step down into a swimming pool as the cold wrapped my legs and arms my bare feet whispered on the floor.

I pulled the window shade aside, and looked up, trying not to make a sound. The lower tree branches were black silhouettes against the starlit sky. I couldn’t see the owls, but I imagined they could see me.

Also invisible in the dark, the virus washed over the world, buzzing like a Dremel inside human cells and on hard surfaces.

But what a gift — the wild voices and unconcern of night predators, the thrill of being close without fear in the certainty that I was not their prey.

 

March 22, 2020, Freeville, NY, USA. ©Patti Witten, all rights reserved.

Crow landing on a snow covered field

Fiction: Phil in the Hospital

You Boys Be Good

He was climbing up the makeshift ladder to the stand when he fell. Everything was fine up to then. He was still pissed at Robert, but it didn’t matter because he’d gotten geared up, he was ready, and his good mood was restored by more beer and weed.

The ladder was made of six-inch wide pieces of salvaged wood siding nailed to the trunk of a pine tree. The tree stand was also made of salvaged lumber and plywood. It was on land that his friend Mike’s family leased for hunting. Phil and Mike had helped Mike’s uncle build it, which had been harder and more work than he’d expected.

Hand over hand, one foot, next foot. But he missed a beat in the pattern and went backward into the snow, falling on the rifle slung across his back.

He lay there for a while, catching his breath and looking straight up at the stupid tree. It was mostly dead, the dark broken branches sticking out like spears. The sky was a uniform white. He was still warm from walking in, but if he didn’t get up he knew he’d get cold pretty quick from the shock of the fall and from the snow. He experimented, raised his arms. Muscles convulsed between his shoulder blades. Then he tried rolling onto his side, intending to free the rifle digging into his back.

The pain flared. It hurt. A lot. Fuck. He could not even start to sit up, much less stand. He carefully removed a glove and fished his phone out of a pocket, and thank god there was a signal. He called Mike.

“Mike, man.”

“You’re alive. What happened,” Mike said.

“You wouldn’t believe it. I fell. I was climbing and I think one of the slats broke. I fell like twenty feet.”

“What, did you break your leg?”

“My back hurts like a motherfucker. I can’t walk out. Can you come get me?” Mike sighed, agreed, and ended the call. 

An hour later the doe appeared. Phil was really cold and it was getting dark when she stamped and snorted. He turned his head slowly and watched her, his cheek freezing against the icy snow. The doe’s head was low and her breath smoked in the cold air. He could smell her. Then he heard the buzz of Mike’s ATV and she disappeared. 

The only good thing about this — two good things — he would get time off from work and he would get Percocet. Already he looked forward to the warm nothingness he would be feeling in a few hours. It was such a relief that, unbelievably, he started to cry.

Old friends, old enemies

Phil was dreaming — speedometer, clock, RPM. His arms and legs would not move. Teeth scratched at his hand and he was filled with a wild fear, pushed against something dense and heavy that was dragging him down. Don’t look at the light, baby. Close your eyes hard, roll them all the way up. Count and sing. We are the sultans, the sultans of swing.

He opened his eyes, his heart thumping, and he knew instantly that once again he was on his back in a hospital bed.

Unlike the other times Phil had awakened to find himself in the hospital, this time he was full of despair. The room had that slippery quality of nighttime. Light spilled into the open door from a hallway and a far-away voice buzzed quietly. A monitor beeped behind his head, out of sight. The scratchy pinch on the back of his hand was an IV needle. The rest was a maze of dread.

A female nurse in pink scrubs came through the door trailing a breeze that wafted over his face. She reached over his head. A fluorescent light came on and the beeping stopped. She turned his right wrist to time his pulse.

“Were you dreaming, honey? Are you awake now? How’s your pain? On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt.”

Phil tried to answer but coughed instead. It hurt.

Here were his old familiar companions — pain and the hospital. He watched the nurse as she lowered his right hand and closed it around a thumb button attached to a cord. “Press this if you have too much pain. Can you do it? It’s a medication pump. You have a catheter so don’t try to get up. Do you understand?”

She held a plastic cup and a straw for him. The straw reminded him of something just beyond recall and discovered that his bottom lip was swollen and would not obey him. He had a question and looked at her over the cup.

“You’re OK, you were in an accident,” she said. “You have to stay in bed now.”

He dropped the straw from his lips. “I know,” he croaked. “What time is it?” Then, “What’s wrong with me?”

“Your left arm is fractured, and your pelvis. Your right knee is sprained and you have a lot of cuts and bruises. But you’re going to be OK. It’s very early now, go back to sleep if you can. The doctor will see you in the morning.”

The nurse straightened and pointed at a whiteboard on the wall next to the bed. “That’s me, I’m Becky. Oh, let me change the date because it’s tomorrow.”

With her back to Phil, she pulled the top off a marker with a pop, and the felt tip squeaked on the board. “I’ll be back,” Becky said over her shoulder and left the room in a puff of wind.

Sunday, August 19, 2018. Because it’s tomorrow. Phil tried to work it out. It meant almost nothing, or not quite something. He looked at his left arm wrapped in an ace bandage over thick padding. A light blanket covered his hips and legs. When he shifted experimentally the pain took his breath away. He found the pump in his right hand and pushed the button with his thumb. Then he pushed it again in case it didn’t work the first time.

Pain and the hospital — old friends, old enemies. The pain was an expanding balloon that carried off his mind like a trailing string. There was no room in his body for more questions.

 

This is an excerpt from a novel in progress.

Spring Haiku – 2011

4/8/11

now my sunrise year
of gray to crimson beauty
has come full circle

april to april
spring to spring, sunrise sunset
i’m the book between

4/3/11

remember april?
birth, death, anniversaries
unforgettable

house finches scolding
heavy cat kneading my arm
red deer in sunrise

3/29/11

the itinerant
doves of mourning have returned
for summer love songs

3/28/11

the lake is fierce
whipped tourquoise and aubergine
brave gulls time their dives

3/26/11

damn snow obscuring
stealthy black frozen puddle
ouch – i have fallen

hobbled by mishap
suddenly i see grey wings
northern harrier

3/25/11

sunrise slides northward
each day a bit farther left
Democratic sun

3/22/11

caked, stained tails and manes
the old grey mare turns to brown
mud season is here

they open the locks
far far north of here and the
lake level rises

vernal equinox
i feel a gut twinge, a cramp
like a teenaged girl

"super moon" march 2011


supermoon rises
in a cold clear sky
due east: proud blushed perigee

3/9/11

all careful plans have
larger forces at work, like
weather predictions
..
ladybug plays dead
good strategy, good for you
and good luck with that
..
cardinal treetop
bluejays in the apple trees
no bobolinks, yet

3/8/11

sugary branches
ice fog: what chilling god would
create such a thing?

2/28/11

february gasps
trees are figured in the rain
resolving details

new winter haikus

More winter haikus on topics of love, travel, weather and the seduction of spring.

2/15/11
I betray winter
by beginning an affair
with a younger spring

1/16/11
kiss of winter dawn
leaves a rime on my chapped lips
empty calories

1/5/11
nineteen ninety-one
flashback to the new year’s eve
he didn’t kiss me

12/28/10
Irate woman rants
gate agent blamed for all problems
a day in the life

12/26/10
The wind knocks palm fronds
against the roof, mocking sleep
impossible rest

Song: When The Horses Start Singing

A deep winter song, for the longest nights, the coldest nights, when your breath opaques the air and the snow squeaks under your boots.

Video: When The Horses Start Singing

Lyrics:

On the coldest night of the year
Everything stops
No spin to the earth
No turn of the season
Words have no meaning

Black sky curves overhead
Inverse of snow
Sublime, absolute
We are mute with conviction
Then the horses start singing

We were waiting for the reset of time
We were waiting for this moment to arrive
We were waiting for it all to synchronize

On the coldest night of the year
when all the words fail
Our breath falls like diamonds
Language is silenced
When the horses start singing
We listen

Winter Haiku

The lake is freezing
seagulls float on mini bergs
crows stalk the shoreline

A half-grown cat’s tail
switches at the falling snow
winter under glass

Starlings tweak berries
from the tree’s winter fingers
oh, to fly as one

Here, invisible:
an eclipse eclipsed by clouds
better luck next time

Lyric: What I Am

Here is a song written recently, featuring water in 2 forms:

What I Am

I am a city of millions and millions of thoughts
Each one a snowflake in a storm of wars won and lost
Streets and boulevards, tunnels, alleys and towers
Neighborhoods, boroughs, parishes, heroes, and cowards

Here is the church of thinking
Here is the temple of drinking
Here is the grotto of loving
Like Venice, I’m sinking
into the sea

I am an ocean foundering drowning in wishes
Pooled ’round a melody I offer anemone kisses
Undersea mountains, canyons, shipwrecks, harpoons
Icebergs and gillnets, hurricanes, dead calm and whirlpools

Here is the current of yearning
Here is the riptide of turning
Here is the soft sand of landing
And oil rigs burning
All this is me

I am a phantom, a photograph, magnetic forces
A tracing of arteries, flock of birds, herd of wild horses
X-rays and gamma rays shot ’round a circular pattern
Throwing off photons, probing the essence of atoms

Here is the first explosion
Setting ­­the universe in motion
Here is the very last lesson
To answer the question:
what will I be?