The climb had been sunny and cheerful, but by the time they reached the base of the waterfall, the sky was thick with low clouds snagging like cotton batting on the ridge above. They rested on the boulders. On a rusted fence along a precipice, prayers in ties of fabric looked forlorn as tamed animals waiting for a signal, eating their anticipation in submission to a required calm.
In the distance the dragging dampness blurred the mountains and darkened the valley. A moody stillness prevailed. It was time to do something else, but what would it be? Like a creeping shadow, the monstrous nimbostratus flattened the landscape, and they felt themselves against it like ciphers on a page.
The moisture hung in the air like a question whose answer is only a matter of time, of achieving a critical mass or reaching a tipping point. They needed to fall like water, but they didn’t know how.
Harmony in Blue and White
The iron taste of winter, an empty schoolyard, and snow more like a mood or an impression than something fallen from the sky. A blue soccer goal without a net, and a perimeter of rubber tires half buried in the earth. A brick storage building, bare poplar trees, mountains, sky, and me. It was a colossal harmony in blue and white, as if I and the mountains, sky, and schoolyard were the wings of an enormous creature aloft. I felt so powerful with seeing, I could have said with Rilke,
I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.
My presence completes the moment of space collapsed in color. My fingers are poplars stroking the sky. My eyes are windows in a solitary cloud turning its plainspoken face to white winter and seeing blue. The slanted roof of my breath catches on the air. The mountains of my resistance are shattered by softest snow. And the tender light is the amorous thought that holds everything fast like a freezing point.
It was the enveloping austerity—the boarded-up storage shed; the adjournment of footprints in snow; the handmade bricks and the thinly veiled graffiti; the missing net and repurposed rubber; the flatness of the field; the emptiness of the goal—everything saying this is what it’s like to live in this place.
A Great Unlearning
Trees raise odes to snow as worshipers of winter. In ornamental gates, lace curtains, and Cyrillic signs, flurries of sudden snowflakes appear. Half the buildings and all the tree trunks proclaim they’ve been white all along while humans scurry, newly creatured, donning dark animal furs.
I walk white sidewalks serene in a world of new-found clarity. The fence around School Lomonosov cradles snow babies in pillars of primary colors. Tree limbs do a dark curling snake dance above the playground. Elm branches make themselves mallets against the xylophone of language. This snow is a great unlearning.
Dark trunks turn snowflakes raise half the scurrying sky. In humans appear animal signs. All the furs out white. All lace dark worshipers put on Cyrillic winter, lace dark odes, and gates on white while. New-found I walk above playground unlearning school, fence, sidewalks, sky and other things I didn’t know I didn’t need before the snow fell and I forgot my business here.
The wall sinks like sky to the horizon of earth, and time stains the seam. Cracked facades send crazed seekers, westering on manifest destiny. Panels in painted doors await perforation’s punches.
Snow makes the world a page, translates objects, revealing an alternate ever-present reality, breaks the syntax, sputters quietness like erasure.
Elizabeth Paul is a writer and teacher living in Arlington, Virginia. Her essays, prose poems, and collaborative work is published or forthcoming in Cold Mountain Review, Carolina Quarterly, The Briar Cliff Review, Sweet, Cider Press Review, andDuende, among other places. Her chapbook of prose poems, Reading Girl, is an ekphrastic exploration of the work of Henri Matisse. She was a Peace Corps education volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, and currently teaches in the Composition Program at George Mason University. Her website is elizabethsgpaul.com.