It’s been cold, and it’s getting colder.  The first sub-zero temperatures of the year will swoop in this weekend — the kind of cold that’s beyond any given degree or wind chill factor.  Cold that becomes an adversary, slapping your face so hard when you venture outside that your eyes water. Cold that turns your breath to smoke and your ears to burning cinders.  This is Dr. Zhivago cold, only without the snow-swept vistas and tinkling ice palace.  It’s animal cold — raw, rough, and hungry.  It bites your nose and squeezes the blood out of your fingers and toes. Then it follows you back into the house, clinging to your clothes.

Here’s a poem on the subject by the American poet Robert Francis who lived very frugally for over 60 years in a house he built for himself in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Little known in his lifetime and even less so now, he was a great admirer of Robert Frost who paid him the very Frostian compliment of being “of all the great neglected poets, the greatest.”


Robert Francis

Cold and the colors of cold: mineral, shell,
And burning blue. The sky is on fire with blue
And wind keeps ringing, ringing the fire bell.

I am caught up into a chill as high
As creaking glaciers and powder-plumed peaks
And the absolutes of interstellar sky.

Abstract, impersonal, metaphysical, pure,
The dazzling art derides me. How should warm breath
Dare to exist – exist, exult, endure?

Hums in my ear the old U-father of freeze
And burn, that pre-post-Christian Fellow before
And after all myths and demonologies.

Under the glaring and sardonic sun,
Behind the icicles and double glass,
I huddle, hoard, hold out, hold on, hold on.

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10 Responses to Cold

  1. Bill Loeb says:

    Ah-h-h Yes ! I do so recall that headline view you show !
    But it makes me yearn to be an in-person viewer. I’ll yet return. Just you wait !

    Meanwhile my hole-up here in Santa Fe is comfy – made tenable by much
    on-line chit-chat. AND I’m registered with State of NM for arm shot. Just you wait !

    Best to all. S/ Cowboy Bill

    • Liza says:

      You might not want to return just yet. We’re looking at 16 inches of snow over the next two days.Get that shot in the arm — and we’ll see you soon.

  2. Dear Liza,
    This is great writing. Thank you for describing with accuracy what the cold is right now, and for reminding us of Robert Francis’ work. Both writing– yours and Francis’ — are very welcome today. Thank you thank you thank you. From one living in the city where the gutters slush has frozen hard as rocks.

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Patty. Watching the snow starting to fall — with 16 or so more inches expected over the next two days. Ah, February!

  3. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Can’t imagine having to stoke a fire or shuffle coal. As it is we have to open our windows and welcome the cold air in these NYC steam heated apartments. Thanks for the poem and even more the clever preface you wrote. Your words always seem to be right on the mark. Come on snow!

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Em. I miss the steam heat — the thumping of the pipes and radiators as it kicks on in the morning. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite as comforting as a fire at night. Snow’s here — and a lot more on the way!

  4. Phyllis says:

    Great post, great poem! Here in Brooklyn, we’re bracing for 18″ of snow coming in the next day with a double-cart trip to the market and an eagerness to witness mother nature kiss some city ass. Hunker down and drink up! Love, p.

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Phyllis. It looks like we’ll be snowbound for a while, too. Wonderful, so long as the power holds!
      Stay warm. Xxx

  5. Carole Hansen says:

    Oh, Liza – it’s taken many years to forget the discomfort of frigid cold. I remember now! If the temp dips below 70 degrees in Florida, we pull out our sweatshirts and light a fire…

    • Liza says:

      Lucky you! I remember being in Miami Beach years ago at Christmas (before it was rediscovered) and seeing all the women wandering around in their furs in 60 degree weather.

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