the cold comes downward
clutching at zero and below
hardening the river’s edge
to shims and milky floe

carrying the omen of
the last loon’s tremolo

now the rapid river run
must deepen with the chill
grow slower downward
as the alewife also will

under her darkened ceiling
keeping vigilantly still

her ceiling has become
this shining gelid floor
where legged creatures may
step out to gingerly explore

shuffle over it foot by foot
toward the opposite shore

take my hand I hear
on a down-floating feather
and cross now safely
on my ethereal tether

should we slip-fall-drown
we will go down together

69 responses »

    • Thank you, Cindy, and I’m glad you like that loon! Since we both have former associations with New Hampshire, and you are such a wonderful photographer of wildlife, I imagine you know something about the calls of loons and that particular tremolo of evening. The loons have left the lakes and rivers now and are floating on ocean waters south of here,( where there’s no ice hiding the fish.)But. they’ll be back again when the lakes and rivers thaw….

  1. I will confess to having to look up ‘alewife’, knowing all would be made clear, and it was. I do wish my vocabulary were as wide as yours, Cynthia; but then, I don’t have the same call for such breadth … and you do use yours so absolutely wonderfully …

    • I’m sure I would have to look up any of the Australian flora and fauna that might be common usage in your vocabulary, M-R.
      The alewife is a pretty common fresh water fish around here…but I’ve always liked that evocative name….reminds me of some middle-aged buxom broad who serves pints in a pub and keeps the local yokels in line when the limericks get too loud and bawdy….

  2. That’s beautiful Cynthia and evoked all manner of associations and references and speculations. The very river itself seems an ethereal location to me, although I guess there is a geographical one there as well.

    • Thank you, Lea! I do miss my watercolors, at certain moments. Last winter, after I moved and my entire art studio was still in boxes, almost everything was destroyed by flood…paintings, calligraphy, books….my graphic life on paper. I haven’t had the oomph to pick up brush and colors since. So I try, occasionally, to do it with words. 🙂

      • Oh Cynthia, what a terrible loss. I do understand. Nearly half my belongings ‘disappeared’ while being shipped to France. Supposedly the crate I paid for was intact until it reached its port in England… 🙂 It sounds like you feel about your watercolors as I do oils. You create beautiful images with words so the watercolors would have much to live up to… 😉

  3. Hi Cynthia,

    Love the poem but, “ethereal tether” or not, I wouldn’t chance crossing any frozen river around here on foot! I’ve seen animals make the attempt, of course, on one occasion a fleet-footed hare pursued by a honey buzzard with talons outstretched…wish I’d had a camera handy.

    A very accomplished poem with many a nicely turned phrase to delight in getting my tongue around, “hardening the water’s edge/ to shims and milky floe” perhaps being my favourite.

    Have a grand Sunday,


    • Hello Paul,
      Thank you for your lovely comment this morning. Most lakes and rivers here in western Maine do freeze over solidly enough to drive cars over them. And the ice-fishing afficionados with their makeshift shacks and holes in the ice are in their glory this time of year. An eye to the
      January thaw is prudent, though….shims at the river’s edge can be deceptive…
      Hope you have another chance at the hare and honey buzzard with your camera!

  4. I’m confessing to looking up more than one word! Absolutely brilliant writing Cynthia. Now I know what all the words mean (I even had to look up ‘shims’ I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a bit thick! 😄), it’s so full of atmosphere and creates a really vivid image. You are up there with the very best in my opinion 😊

    • Let me guess…shims, alewife, gelid…..I know shims from woodworking and dealing with old storm windows. When it popped into the writing of this poem, I had to look it up to make sure it would work with ice as well as wood. gelid is like the French gelé, often heard around here in winter conversations, and alewife..well it’s such an evocative word, isn’t it? (see M-R’s comment above) There are lots of them around here.
      The g.d.autocorrect on my tablet gives me a hard time with vocabulary….alewife comes out appetite or allspice…..gelid always becomes valid, eyelid, etc…
      At this point I’m thinking I’m a bit thick too! 🙂

      • Love this poem, the rythym, the words, the feel of it…..(I love knowing what alewife is….as you can imagine, I thought it was a “MTA” stop!! end of the line!) so sorry to hear about your loss of graphic artist material. You are so gifted there, too! makes me sad and this must be part of the journey of aging we are on! I sorrowfully missed your b’day, Cyn and will be in touch. I still want there to be someone making you fires in your home!

        • Ah the good old days on the Boston subway…now you’ve reminded me; that MTA stop was at Alewife Brook Parkway, wasn’t it? Did you ever wonder who or what the alewife was?

          I’ve salvaged some of my artbooks, and a few drawings that were in a plastic container, as well as my drafting table, and many brushes and tools….now I need the energy, the spirit. I’m hoping it will come with spring. But maybe you’re right, and it’s part of the journey.

          Not to worry about birthdays, now that you too have joined the “three-score-and-ten.” I’m
          thinking to get a chimney sweep here this coming summer, and also a company that installs propane inserts in fireplaces….then I can have a fire (kind of) at the flick of a switch, with real flames and fake everlasting logs,independent of electricity! Ça suffit pour s’amuser….
          And thank you, my friend!

  5. take my hand I hear
    on a down-floating feather
    and cross now safely
    on my ethereal tether

    should we slip-fall-drown
    we will go down together

    What is this ethereal tether? It is an interesting mix of connotations and experiences for me. To know the tether as something that restricts movement, ties and keeps, alongside “safety” and then the boundless realm of something ethereal (lightness of being). Can it be trusted, Cynthia?

    Your poem brought back memories of the ice I’ve dared to cross, or jump on, the risks I took, some unknowingly until the next day when the ice was nowhere to be seen, and I thanked God for being alive!

    Another very beautiful poem.

    • Hello Anna–I very much like your musings about “ethereal tether” and would respond to your “Can it be trusted?” in the affirmative, as long as I remember (which I don’t always) that it is not a question of BELIEVE, but a question of HAVE FAITH….The latter being a lot scarier because it implies the unknown, and doesn’t demand security….

      • Yes, but if the unknown doesn’t demand security, then why the spiritual tether? and what is it? I am suspicious of it and I don’t trust it, I must admit. If I were to journey into the unknown, I’d ask for no spiritual tethers, thank you very much : )

        • Actually I didn’t write “spiritual” did I? I wrote “ethereal.” A tether can hold, restrain, hang loose or restrict, keep on course, limit, protect, align. etc..at the most basic level, it connects.
          What we think it connects to…..a fixed point or a flux…now there’s the interesting question.
          Faith, by definition, does not necessarily know, but goes ahead anyway.

          • Yes, you are right, I used the word “spiritual”. I often associate spiritual with ethereal. And I did also think about the positive aspects of a tether, and feel relieved that at its most basic level, it connects. But still…whether it be a fixed point, or flux…I hope to know the tether itself, too. The tether here has a voice and a hand…should a real person be that tether, then I’d like to meet him/her.

            • We humans have a hard time thinking about these things without personalizing them, hence the voice and the hand. But these are ways of speaking about something, not the something itself. All the symbols, words, icons , and mental constructs are fine, if they help us; but they are the map, not the territory….they are our all too human itch to fix what is a flux, including ourselves.

              • Yes, I know the personification…I think what I mean is “if”…”if”, let’s just say, there is an actual person, walking alongside someone, me, then I’m not too much a fool to want to meet him. : ) Am I?

  6. Well, I had to look up some words too! 😉 You paint a very icy scene Cynthia, and so well as you always do. 🙂 I guess the big freeze has reached you? It’s pretty cold here in England too, but I can’t complain, we have had an incredibly mild winter for most of the country until about two weeks ago, it’s almost felt like spring at times, even the birds have been fooled, singing sweetly in the trees in early morning as though summer is on the horizon. They must have got a shock when this cold burst arrived!

    I love the way you confidently use so many words a lot of us are not so familiar with, it will certainly keep us all awake! When I try using words I know some may not quite know the meaning of, I change my mind, edit my writing, and I’m back where I began. I think if I was writing for a book I’d be less anxious about the reader getting it. There’s something about writing for a blog where people will comment that has a strange effect, an over awareness of words and how I’m presenting what I’m saying. In some ways that’s turned out a good thing, in other ways not. I’m not sure how to get rid of that! 🙂

    • You’ve set me thinking about all this, Suzy. I was a teacher for many years and old habits die hard. On the one hand it’s of prime importance to understand and meet your auditors where they are, for the sake of communication. On the other hand you want to bring them further along, for the sake of education. Now that I blog, I have no idea who will read what I write, aside from my usual friendly followers, so I don’t even consider vocabulary choice except as it occurs to me when I’m writing. I am no longer wishing to teach. I’m an avid reader of good writers and love to learn new words that way. Searching for what the French call “le mot juste” is what poetry is all about, I think, and the audience is the whole history of the English language, not just the ordinary words some people happen to know. It still comes back to that battle between communication and moving out further, into as yet unknown territory. 🙂

      • I agree with you about the education side of it, we should all desire to move forward from where we are. At least the advantage to reading while online, you can rapidly look up any words you’re not familiar with without becoming too distracted from what you’re reading. I find that a lot quicker than getting my very large Oxford dictionary out – heavy old thing! My problem though with all the new words, is actually remembering it all – but that’s another problem entirely! 😀

        • I have the old 2-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary which comes with a magnifying glass, so small is the print. I only use it when I want to trace the history of a word, over time. Otherwise, like you, I’m glad we can find definitions (and pronunciation) online. 🙂

  7. I caught alewife, plus knew what it was, but this my be the first blog post I’ve ever read containing alewife … so I checking another box for a life-first event to start my week.

    Your poems always seem to paint a picture, 🙂 … but at the end of this one, I’m melancholy … a touch of sadness … but because the mere aspect of Cindy mentioning tremolo made me smile because I thought of this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWgR_3QndHY … well, at least it rhymes and I know you would enjoy it.

  8. Beautiful work Cynthia – I clearly saw the ice forming capturing a world underneath all quiet and hushed for another long winter spell, and then leading us along the oh, so scary walk across. Wonderful writing.

      • But guess what? Woke up today and the temp was 29! I mean seriously we were at 70 last weekend, daffodils 3 to 4″ high already. Stay warm and safe, I guess winter decided to wait until the very end to slam you all over and over again. Reminds me when we moved into our home in Maine, April 21 and there was still ice on the ground!

  9. Returning to this Cynthia I find it more and more enchanting: the omen of the last loon’s tremolo, the vigilant alewife, the legged creatures shuffling.
    But I keep coming back to that penultimate stanza. There’s something going on there beyond the description of the Androscoggin. There’s another presence in the scene, or another person.
    Whatever you had in mind yourself, a reader may provide their own answers to the mystery. You’ve created space for others’ imaginations to take over. To me the River Styx seems to flow under the ice.

    • I’m pleased to hear the stanza works that way, John, because in all honesty this is a case, once again, of beginning with the specific, ordinary, available, tangible and realizing only after it is written that other dimensions (?) have invaded—unbeckoned but welcome. I sense the Styx, too. (now that I live in the sticks [see, I can’t help it 🙂 ] ) and can readily feel the approach of Charon these days….a complicated conundrum.

  10. I love this Cynthia and again had to read it a few times. I don’t readily understand poetry but you make me want to learn. To be honest your prose suggested so much in my imagination that I really thought the ale wife was the buxom middle aged lady!! Always soulful. Lovely 🙂

  11. Quelque chose qui me tracasse… I’m thinking of another character that walked on water. Wait, it will come back to me. And somehow I hear Eliot, but this often happens when I am forced to contemplate subnivean vistas and the ethereality that exists so surely below gelid floors.

    • Except for Jesus and—briefly, until he questioned it—Peter, I’m not remembering who else walked on water. Maybe someone in Eliot, but having crossed his tumultuous seas in my scholar days, I’m not of a mood to use up any of what’s left of my time revisiting him; he’s just not that much fun. Was it Touchstone? No, he was Shakespeare’s. Eliot’s touchstone was a proof rock, I mean Prufrock. As you can see, je me trouve tracassée aussi. I will just have to wait until it all comes back to you, since you have greater memory than I.

      • Jesus, that’s it! I knew that old party trick sounded familiar and had been famously performed by some notable character of fiction. Of course I can’t agree that Eliot isn’t fun, only that he’s pretentious and second-rate (not my own conclusion, but I’ve adopted it and the little orphan seems to be growing up nicely–I’d say blossoming, given the chance to express myself freely, whilst paying homage to the wispy whirl of an alewife’s tailfin).

        Nota bene: I’m probably thinking of the angelfish and not the prosaically tailed–though miraculously named–alewife, but that’s the subject of a preposterous and piscine discussion that’s probably best left to the experts, such as Jacques Cousteau. If only I could just get that dusty time machine back from the shop.

        • I don’t read much fiction, these days, or attend parties. And as I dabble in verse I can almost hear my brain sigh…one of those you-can’t-live-with-’em/you-can’t-live-without- ’em sighs. I want to say to Eliot, “who in Sam Hill do you think you are, characterizing a whole generation as wasted?” But I can’t ask him that because he sleeps, now, with the fishes…mermaids, angelfish, alewives, all….And, as he once plagiarized from your own Ariel’s poetic lucubrations, “those are pearls that were his eyes”….

          • That cad (toilets rescrambled), that plagiarizing cad (oh the irony)! Now you see what I mean about being second rate. And this is expressly forbidden in that wondrous book of party tricks (old and new)–now relegated to the hotel nightstand.

  12. I looked down the comments, knowing alewife and loon would have got people curious. I knew what a loon was though – one of those birds I have only ever seen in bird books. They drop in on the north of Scotland, but rarely make it south of the border. But I did have to look up alewife. Before doing so I had the image of a – perhaps drunk – housewife looking up at a ceiling crawling with bugs – completely inappropriate for winter, I know, but the uncanniness of the image carried through to the true image of a fish looking up at an ice ceiling… then that eerie beckoning at the end. An enjoyable poem on several levels.

    • As a birder, you would enjoy the loons, I think. I know very little about birds, but the loons are a favorite of mine because of their beautiful eerie calls—categorized as hoots, wails, tremolos, and yodels.
      The hoots are little short mumblings between mates, or a mother to her chicks—family conversation. The wail is a haunting back and forth to figure out one another’s location. The yodel is a male territorial claim (if the guy moves to a new place, he changes his yodel!) and the tremolo is what you’d expect…haunting, ominous. Loons are wild and remote, like Maine. And looney, too, like the Maine-iacs.

      Try not to think about a drunk housewife staring at a ceiling crawling with bugs.

      • I’ll try, but now you’ve said it, it’s hard… Centipedes, for some reason.
        Anyway, very interesting about the loons – and you say you don’t know much about birds. I must put loon-spotting on my itinerary next time I visit Scotland, for now I will have to make do with the less poetic grebes.

  13. You seem to be able to weave uncommon words unobtrusively into your poetry. I noticed loon and alewife only on a second reading, such was the impact of your poetry. Always tricky, but I try to reflect on the mood you would be in whenever I read one of your poems.

    • I like what you say, there, Ankur. I think I read a poem as you do, letting some over-all sense of mood or intuition be the first reading, not getting snagged on particular words or images. Further readings can enrich with details….if a poem warrants further readings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s