Marly Youmans

A Child in Snow and Sleep

The first I ever knew the weight of snow
Or slantwise slip of stars across the air
And glowing revelation in the dusk, 
A hush and secrecy stayed in my mind
As if it longed to speak to me but knew
That wordlessness had potency to yield
Some news of wonder to a Southern child.

The sculptor down the block began to build
From snow—a squat and bulky, hunkered thing,
And then one more, mysterious to us,
Although my father showed me images
Of mudbrick mastabas that looked as strange,
And not like places made to lodge and hide
Some queen or king for all eternity.

And every night, snow falling more and more,
The sculptor worked the snow and made his dream…
We children slept so deeply in the snows
That seemed the very soul of soundlessness,
Though sometimes whispered white noise to our ears,
But woke up wild to see what he had made
Under the clouds that hid the stars and moon.

I wonder what the sculptor meant to make,
Remembering those heavy, snowborn thighs,
The thickness of those bodies on their thrones
And mute, impassive faces under crowns.
Was she some goddess, moonlight in her brain,
And he some ancient god of storm and sun,
Two snowy idols, Baal and Asherah?

Time wears away at memories; perhaps
They were chess pieces like the Lewis hoard
With its shield-biter berserkers as rooks,
Its staring, pensive queens with hand on cheek 
And bug-eyed kings, each with lap-baby sword,
Two souvenirs of the medieval world
Tumbled from some barrow in the heavens.

To wonder is to say the world is more
Than we see commonly—I longed to know
If the snowy giants stirred at evening,
And if they might be cold and fierce enough 
To topple trees and houses while we slept,
Or if they might peer into lamplit rooms,
Yearning to be less stellar, more human.

The night the stars and moon appeared once more,
I dreamed a branch of brambles cast from gold
That burned and slowly waved inside a fire,
A loveliness that grew as snowflakes fell
And glittered in the heat around the bough,
Becoming golden letters that spelled out
A word of making, spring, and mystery. 

Marly Youmans is the author of fifteen books of poetry and fiction. Her latest poetry collection is The Book of the Red King, from Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal, 2019, and her latest novel is Charis in the World of Wonders, published by Ignatius Press of San Francisco in 2020.