notes from a cold place


Out here people are quick to take notice
of warmth: smiles, words, hugs, any new form
of heat to thaw the snow on the ground,
the frost in the air, handshakes. That day I noticed
how your cheeks were flushed and there was
a coarse chill in your voice, but your fingers
were warm, as if you had been
roasting marshmallows all night, or rubbing
your palms together in hopes
of starting a fire that we can dance around.

Where I’m from, you said, the sun
is always shining, and weather that doesn’t scorch
or sting is rare, a gift. All I heard was, I’m sorry;
where I’m from is not where
you are. Do not love me yet.

We held hands on benches, on the streets,
in grubby diners while truck drivers
eyed us out of jealousy, or perhaps concern;
through their sleepy stares and the fog rising
from their coffee cups, they could see
right through us. We held hands in churches,
in tents, underneath threadbare blankets, beside
picnic baskets perched on the living room floor (it was
never safe to bring the bagels and cheese
outside, the apple cider in cinnamon red mugs).

When our fingers were locked, as if guarding
a secret, or keeping
a promise, we didn't feel the need to do
anything else—speak, or kiss, or make
plans, or whatever was supposed
to come next—it was more than enough
that your hands were the first signs
of spring in the long winter of my life.

Surely where you’re from
people shiver, too,
in joyful anticipation, in fear.

I bundled up when you left: two shirts,
an indigo jacket, a coat from my uncle,
thermal underwear, dark heavy
pants, thick socks. Layers, like an onion
or a wedding cake. Gloves.
The gum-snapping, hip-popping waitress
at the diner said, Someone’s dressed for distress.

On certain nights I imagine you waking up
in your corner of the world where there are
only two seasons: hot and hotter,
and in my mind you always greet the day
by stretching your arms over your head, your hands
reaching above and beyond, radiating warmth
all the way to where I lay, about to build
a bridge to rest.