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A Poem for Winter’s Lingering Grip

The calendar may say April but Old Man Winter is still holding on in central New York, refusing to step aside and let spring take over the scene. So while temps fail to crack 50—at least for now—I will offer a fictional, cold weather-themed poem from my latest collection.

Winter Morning

The woman in 309B rolls over on her side.
She reaches across the bed,
seeking the warmth of her lover’s body.
But no one is there.
And she remembers sending her man away.
She recalls a conversation filled with words
like freedom, space, and separation.
At this hour, though, she would trade them in
for flesh in her bed,
the presence of a person she no longer claims.
She can accept failed love, a relationship fizzling.
The end is not so awful
when examined with the passage of time.
She does not need the man.
She can excel on her own.
But with soft light entering her room,
and the radiator wheezing as it releases heat,
she realizes no remedy exists
for the empty feeling of being alone
in bed on a winter morning.
So she gets up,
makes a half-attempt to straighten the covers,
then goes out to the kitchen to fix a pot of coffee.
And the tasks of the day will help her
to shake off the loneliness, keep it at a distance,
until the following morning, when the yearning
for someone else nearby will return.
But let tomorrow take care of itself, she thinks.
She resigns to stop wasting time
on these cold mornings, replaying her regrets,
and bemoaning the absence of a man in her bed.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

I also wanted to mention that poet Elinor Cramer, author Jo Lynn Stresing and I will be reading from our recent books on Friday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse. The DWC is located at 340 Montgomery Street and you can find out more information at its website.

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Bag in the Breeze

Photo by Kate Ter Haar (via Flickr).

Bag in the Breeze

Thursday morning, 9:47 a.m.
White airy clouds
painted against a pale blue sky.
Whipping sounds like
baseball cards spinning in bicycle spokes
call out to pedestrians
moving on the salt-crusted sidewalk.
A medical helicopter zips overhead.
You look up as it flies out of sight.
And with your head still raised,
you spot a plastic shopping bag
tangled on a leafless branch,
stuck at the top of a tree,
flapping in the breeze.
The bag waves its white flag
in an overture of surrender,
hinting at submission to the chill of winter,
while struggling to break loose,
straining to be released,
and waiting for a new wind to set it free.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

Uncategorized

Winter Walk

Winter Walk

It takes one fall
on the icy sidewalk
for your life to be ruined.
That’s right, just one tumble—
arms flailing,
legs scissoring in the air,
back parallel to the ground,
eyes looking up at a gray sky
unable to intervene—
in a brief suspended
moment before wham—
skull meets ground and blackness ensues.
Traumatic brain injury follows,
and you slip into a coma.
Your family huddles bedside,
waiting for you to rouse,
to wake up and rejoin the living,
like a grizzly bear stepping out
of its den after hibernation.
If you do come out of it
with some brain activity intact,
you may be a shell—withering
in a long-term nursing home.
And while you exist inside,
the costs mount for your family,
and the world outside your window
drags on, unaware of your predicament.
All this because some ice tripped you up.
So don’t be surprised if you see me
walking gingerly on the
glassy surface of the sidewalk,
digging my heels into a
pile of rock salt near the curb,
spreading it around on my soles,
strapping on a pair of
Yaktrax over my boots,
or cutting across the snow-covered lawns.
I guess I don’t mind dying,
or being knocked unconscious,
but I would feel awfully foolish
if a patch of frozen moisture does me in.

Sidewalk Stories (Kelsay Books, 2017)

Writing

Snow Poem

Snow on Branches. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I wrote this poem recently and it seems fitting for a day dominated by a lake effect blast.

How to Survive Winter in Syracuse

The only way to survive
a Syracuse winter
is to think of the snow
as a friend and not a foe.
When you scrape the ice
crusted on your windshield
and the snow clogs the streets,
when your tires spin,
or your car veers off the road—
regarding the snow
as a friend and not a foe
will help you to endure the season.
Even when the snow lashes
your face as it blows sideways,
or frozen clumps melt inside your boots,
making your feet cold and damp,
you must remember to
view the snow as a friend instead of a foe.
And what a friend … a friend that keeps on
giving and giving and giving
six months out of the year.
To which I say:
thank you my dear friend,
but I don’t need your generosity.

Uncategorized, Writing

A Poem for December

While I dread it, the start of December means there’s no denying that winter is upon us. And with colder temperatures and lake effect snow forecast for Central New York within the next couple of weeks, I wanted to share a winter-themed poem, inspired by some scenery I encounter when I walk near the Genesee Grande Hotel in Syracuse.

Winterized

Cedar hedges wrapped in burlap,
awaiting winter’s bite,
like a family of mummies
snug in their tombs,
but poised to shake off the fabric
and reach for the sun
when the warmth of spring resumes.

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)

Writing

Farewell My Beloved Peacoat

My worn and tattered peacoat has finally been retired after more than eight years of service in the harsh winters of Central New York. The Joseph Abboud garment—purchased online for about $80 from JCPenney or Target—now rests at the bottom of an outdoor clothing donation box. With my wardrobe dominated by old jeans and khakis and dark sweaters purchased at thrift stores, the peacoat had given me a modicum of style, a hint of fashion. It was the only decent item in my closet.

My peacoat, ready to be retired.

I had planned to wear the peacoat the rest of the winter, hoping to make it last until Easter. I had been wearing a waterproof raincoat over the peacoat in an effort to protect the peacoat’s battered exterior. It was a laborious process to put on my hoodie, put on my peacoat, and then slip on the raincoat. It seemed like a waste of time for me to go to the gym every day during my lunch hour. I thought I could get just as good a workout if I stayed inside and did ten repetitions of putting on my boots, winter hat, and my three layers of coats.

img_0072b

But a friend gave me a gift—a brand new, thigh-length winter coat—so it didn’t make much sense to keep using the peacoat. But that didn’t make saying goodbye an easier; even though the peacoat’s pockets and lining were ripped and the buttons ready to fall off at any moment, it still felt good wrapped around my shoulders.

The heavyweight wool fabric provided density and comfort against the cold, and I loved the classic American look that signaled masculinity. In fact, whenever I adjusted the collar, I fantasized that I was James Dean or Jack Kerouac roaming through the back alleys of Manhattan in the 1950s.

Photo credit: Dennis Stock/Magnum
Photo credit: Dennis Stock/Magnum

Perhaps I should not have gotten so attached to a coat, an inanimate object. But I reminisce about what I experienced while wearing the coat. I wore the coat while working in New York City. I wore the coat while taking a trip westbound aboard Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, en route to Toledo, Ohio, to visit my sister. I wore the coat when I visited my parents in Rome, New York, at Christmas in the years before my mother passed away. And I wore the coat while going on numerous walks with my wife, Pam, and my infant son, Colin.

Of course I know a coat is just a coat, nothing more. But I am sentimental because this one helped me to endure the upstate New York winters, making the months between Thanksgiving and Easter a little more bearable.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the coat:

Change of Seasons (The Peacoat Poem)

The first day of October
and temperatures dip
into the low 40s.
A feeling of utter gloom
as I reach into the shadows
of the hall closet and retrieve
my worn, black peacoat.
And so begins another
six months of winter
in Central New York.

I should be used to it by now,
but I can’t reconcile with this weather.
And my peacoat will not return
to the closet until after Easter.
So until spring arrives,
I will continue to grumble
about the cold,
while making sure
to button up my coat
before I step outside
to face the elements.

Writing

Change of Seasons (The Pea Coat Poem)

I woke up with a chill this morning in my apartment, and this poem came to me.

My trusty pea coat.
My trusty pea coat.

Change of Seasons (The Pea Coat Poem)

The first day of October
and temperatures dip
into the low 40s.
A feeling of utter gloom
as I reach into the shadows
of the hall closet and retrieve
my worn, black pea coat.
And so begins another
six months of winter
in Central New York.

I should be used to it by now,
but I can’t reconcile with this weather.
And my pea coat will not return
to the closet until after Easter.
So until spring arrives,
I will continue to complain
with zeal about the cold,
while making sure
to button up my coat
before I step outside
to face the elements.

Writing

A Winter Verse

Sometime around Christmas I bought a used paperback copy of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens at a book fare in the mall.

The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.

I have too many unread books still kicking around the house, but I thought 534 pages of verse for only a dollar was too good a deal to pass up.

I’ve read some of Wallace’s work before and found him to be a challenging read because of his vocabulary and his precision with language. But I think he’s worth investing the time, and as a writer who works full time in another profession, I am inspired by the fact that Stevens spent his career as an insurance lawyer and wrote poetry on the side. You can find out more about him here.

I haven’t started reading Wallace’s book yet, as I am working through the doorstopper of a novel The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, but I flipped through the volume and found a poem that seems suitable for mid-January when subzero temperatures reign. Here it is:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

Tree “crusted with snow.”

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 1982. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1954.