An Epistolary Project

letters to a reader, unknown

Tag: winter

What freezings have I felt

My winter reading has led me back to poetry; re-reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets promptedĀ  memories of their discovery while exploring the book stacks in Newcastle Central Library, a building I visitedĀ  religiously on my journey home from school. It was startlingly modern, almost brutalist in its concrete mass, but I always felt it to be my intellectual womb, a place where I discovered Elizabethan poetry, Dostoevsky, Sholokov, Chaucer. It has, sadly, been demolished.


How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer’s time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of orphans, and unfathered fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute:
Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer,
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

Reflections and Shadows

This piece evolved over winter 2012/13 as my sister, Catherine, progressed through her final rounds of chemotherapy/radiotherapy/hospice care before her death, as winter ended, February 28th. She never quite made it through to spring and to her 53rd birthday. I offer no apology for my response, below, other than to say we usually say too little in too many words.

Reflections & Shadows

I write in the dusk of a bitter winter
as I recall our childhood years,
now, as we embrace our half century,
you at its beginning, me
reaching towards my 60th, a family record.

How do you embrace your sister’s
sharp struggle for life
as each faculty, ingrained with
experience and habit, deteriorates.
I wait, incapable of emotion,
drained by sadness and years
of silence.

We talk of small domestic incidents,
you narrate a litany of exotic pharmacopeia,
of doctors searching for a needle in a haystack,
nurses who reliably find the vein.

What dies with you?
Memories of awkward conversations,
of things we did not share.
You’re the sister I’m said to most resemble.
I do not hear myself, but our mother
in the cadence of your voice.

February 2013

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