M.L. Brown: "Cold"




I.  Black Ice


When you come into cold, 

   hold tight to your ribs. 

Look up at the houses that rise 

   from sea smoke

where people carry on 

   with happy lives. They will feel you, 

small and dark on their street, hear

   how you want what they have. 


Imagine yourself at the highest window—

   you—looking out at yourself looking in.

Learn to roll with the floor boards, 

   salt-water warped, shifting.

Absorb the stories of the house until you own

   its leather-bound library and high-backed 

chairs, warmth of oil lamps.

   Every woman has her own language:

Wear your alphabet on your ribs.



II.  Pack Ice


In Shackleton’s Antarctica, ice-locked sailors  

   made serious study of marrow 

and the narrow needle, scrimshawed 

   history on the bones 

of dead sled dogs while their breath condensed  

   into corkscrews of frozen beard.


Bless this sailor’s rope, the hole 

   hacked in ice, the fish too cold to bite,

keep safe these wet tents and rotting socks,

   the canned beets and seal meat.


   Everyday at home the same maiden voyage—

sharp pointed needles with long eyes

   drawn by shadow wives

into French knots and Florentine,

   cross stitches, dry kisses.

Bad luck to be a woman wanting

   the glow of the captain’s quarters.

“Cold” continued, new section



III. Drift


The way he holds

   a drink in his hand, 

shakes ice against the glass.

   The way he knocks back

a cube, caves it in his mouth,

   tames the jut of angles with melt,

spits it back to the glass, whirls it 

   around the bottom, ice like a skater 

circling a solid pond. 

   The skater, sealed in the centrifugal force 

of his wrist, hears nothing but wind. 


Routine hems them in, ice-caught

   before they can alter course, frozen

side by side in their chairs, pocket 

   of air between them, golden weak spot, 

place they might break through

   for breath like otters in winter seas. 

They take the measure of drift, turn up 

   the thermostat, volume on TV, 

go to bed early, read 

   by light of his and her lamps. 

They hunger for a peach, 

   warm pair of socks, that shared rib.


M.L. Brown's chapbook, Drought, won the Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award. Her poems have been published in various journals and anthologies including Blackbird, Gertrude, PoemMemoirStory, Calyx, and Not Somewhere Else, But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place