January (or February)
(A sequel to Max Ellison’s poem, “October”)
The year is still young as a honeymoon,
but every night it shines like a Peeping Tom
through our frost covered windows.
January, (or February)
you are like a cold-hearted woman,
and I’m sick of you.
You’ve drained the colors out of me.
Since our first night
all you’ve given me is your cold shoulder.
Kiss me with warmth, ha!
I can count the times on one mitten.
You powder everything with Siberian white.
When you move, your nightgown
is like squeaking snow.
The deer are all starving in your nakedness.
Your silver hair drips like icicles
over your shoulders.
I want an annulment.
I sit here at my desk, an aging warrior lost between fact and myth. The words you read flow from the trembling fingertips of a man who witnessed and fought in some of the most terrible snowball battles ever waged on a school playground.
In the ruins of my imagination, they rival Homer’s Iliad, except we didn’t fight naked or barely clothed like the ancient Greeks.
We wore snowsuits and long johns.
Our shields were our thick foreheads.
Our Achilles heels were our tender red noses.
There were no Helens of Troy or weeping wives. The girls didn’t follow us into battle.
The young ladies didn’t stand on a nearby hillside and cheer.
They stayed inside the school where it was warm and ignored us.
Why were snowball fights banned on my hometown’s school property?
A half century later one version of a mob of truths comes out in this month’s poem. After all these years it’s still an uneasy truce.
Now and then an occasional snowball skirmish erupts.
The Good Old Days
He was strong as a wild man,
though only a boy.
He left a trail of bloody noses,
and busted belts
all over the school playground…
until one winter recess
all the big guys united
in a snowball war against him.
To make the battle fair,
they gave this doomed warrior
all the rest of us boys
from fourth grade on down.
I was in second grade
and was drafted.
This modern day Attila the Hun
lined his army up
along the west sideline
of the practice football field.
He stood in the center
as our leader.
The fifth and sixth grade boys
lined up along the east,
facing us with flashing steel eyes.
I was on the far left flank
near the end zone
when we charged.
I saw the two armies crash
into each other like a bad accident.
I hadn’t read, yet,
of Alexander the Great,
Hannibal or Tecumseh.
I hadn’t discovered Steven Crane’s
Red Badge of Courage,
but the whole experience
was like a terrible dejavu
from a past life.
My second grade courage deserted
through the goal posts,
and sneaked off
towards the swings and teeter-totters.
By the end of recess
I’d composed myself
and was standing near
a bruised sixth grade enemy hero.
He was crying
and holding his belt buckle
in three pieces.
By the next winter
this mysterious, scary, sad boy had moved
on like a storm
to some other school playground.
Our snowball fights
returned to normal
with an occasional bloody nose trail
leading to a school bathroom.
I was in the front wave of a charge
around the corner
of the school building.
My mouth wide-open
around a barbaric vowel
must have looked like a bulls-eye.
An enemy sharpshooter
scored a perfect hit.
It was like swallowing a miniature glacier
traveling at the speed of light.
The snowball cut and gouged
all the way down to my stomach.
My third grade buddies
carried me into the school
choking and gasping
for warm air.
That week the principal and teachers banned
snowball fights forever
on school property.
Young warriors’ habits die hard.
It took a week in the principal’s office
sitting on the floor,
writing over and over
“I will not throw snowballs
on school property,”
before five of us signed
the peace treaty.
Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 29 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at www.terrywooten.com.