Poem: Cross River Nocturne

Posted Aug 27, 2007
Last Updated Apr 12, 2008
by John Dalmas

(experienced by the poet in Koochiching
County, Minnesota, November 1947)

        In the night the powder snow
        lay deep on woods and fields.
        I jogged for warmth.
        Through autumn pants and drawers,
        my thighs ached from the cold
        that gripped the land like iron.

        I should have stayed in town.

        I slowed for rest,
        walking backward watching
        the towering northern lights,
        great ranked fluorescent spears
        advancing  and retreating in the sky.

        The cold night roweled me, and I ran again.

        Ahead a farmhouse hunched,
        low, snow-laden, lightless in the night,
        the last house on my way
        and nine miles more to go,
        nine miles of bog and forest,
        and twenty-nine below.

        Did I dare?

        The place was still, but by the house,
        a battered pickup said they were at home.

        Nine miles to jog on legs already tired.

        My boots creaked on the tire-packed snow
        as senses honed by stillness and the act,
        I walked toward the house,
        a weathered cabin of squared logs,
        with curtained windows, and the smell of smoke
        faintly pungent in the snow-lit night.

        A half-hour's rest, that's all.

        It was unlocked.  The hinges made no sound.
        Inside was darker far than out of doors.
        A banked fire leaked thin glowing lines,
        edging the door  of a stove that once
        had been a drum of oil.

        A chair stood dimly near it, and I sat. 

        What was that?  Claws on linoleum!

        A shaggy farm dog walked into the room.
        Large in the darkness,
        came and sniffed, then lay down by my feet,
        silently accepting, as if he understood.