Mostly cloud: a heavy-bundled leaden grey
brightening to talcum white or near white
so you know snow is coming.
People, then, bodies withstanding a wind that whittles
everything in its path:
flayed trees, broken fence-posts,
a few splintered bridge-pilings,
one rowing-boat sunk to its gunnels in ice,
the stems of straw-colored tall dead grass.
Six or seven figures: one trudges the slope of the bridge
towards a low-slung house,
a rag of smoke wind-raveling from its chimney;
a bent man shoves a sled across ice;
a woman in a long, burnt-umber tweed skirt
tucks her youngster in close.
Out where the river widens, two men have stopped to talk
as if frozen water were their village street
some spring or summer or mild autumn evening,
and not this storm-pit of a winter's day
through which a solitary skater leans and breezes past them—
intent as any sea-bird
on some hungry errand upstream,
his whole unfolding body
rapt and wrapped in it,
unseeing the blockish church-tower in its flat sandstone colours,
or the thatched roofs
coated with famished snowlight,
or even the trees in their leaf-lorn
purity of shape, wind-stricken.
You see all this and think that's all, till a fraction
in the upper left catches your eye
with a cleaner shade of cloud
or maybe sky, a translucent albumen grey
with faint trace-specks of blue inside it—
as if the painter couldn't leave the scene
without some tiny touch of hope in it,
so your eyes keep sliding down from there
to the sailing-boat
ice-moored beside a shaded gable,
whose mast and boom are
ramrod straight, still stiff-buckled
into winter, on which
you can see a streak or two of brighter light ignite
their vertical and horizontal lines
of hardihood, almost softening
the tough wood they're carved in.
The craft faces towards the open stream and seems
though hasped in the solid grasp of ice
ready for anything—for the wind
to shift and the anchoring ice
to relent and melt and flow away
the way that woman gazing at the mast has seen it happen,
as will happen when this hard season
turns to spring, a lit and flickering
forecast of which you might
see in those cottony blobs
the painter has coaxed to the tips of a few nude trees,
that force your eyes and your
desiring mind to hover at last
between the fact of packed snow and the fact of blossom.