Feeding Your Winter Sorrow
Maybe it’s late in winter, after a run of insomnia, when it’s most possible to be steeped in winter sorrow. And perhaps it’s needed – just a little more to feed the poems and to feed the dreams, to store up for summer and all its green and warm and golden happinesses.
There’s a poem by Mary Ruefle from her Selected that begins,
I feed my sorrow
I feed my sorrow spinach
I feed my sorrow eggs
and goes on:
I starch my sorrow
I iron it flat, then I fold it again
I buy blueberries for my sorrow
And so I’ve been reading that over and over. Feeding my sorrow. Feeding my sorrow yogurt and feeding my sorrow coffee and carrot juice. Burying my sorrow in the snow and digging it up again. I feed my sorrow frost and I feed my sorrow snow like coconut ice cream. I feed my sorrow shimmering icicles and cold and sparkly sugar sprinkles.This past week I fed my sorrow winter light, and spring flowers from the grocery store.
Pema Chödrön, in No Time to Lose, talks about a kind of laziness called “loss of heart.” This kind of discouragement that we may feel, she says, interpreting an 8th century text by Shantideva called The Way of the Bodhisattva, is an indulgence. The opposite of laziness is enthusiasm, is going forward with the curiosity I’m usually able to embrace, try to remember to embrace. Still, I think (and likely Pema Chödrön would agree) it’s useful to stay with our sorrow for a time, stay with our loss of heart. Keep it company, write through it if possible. Look at the world, photograph it even, through our sorrow lens. For sorrow, too, is a kind of gift.
And maybe at the end of the day, I’ll go out and buy some blueberries. I’ll spend at least the morning thinking about what might feed my sorrow. I’ll cry out to my sorrow, pour it a bowl of milk and set it out on the front stoop in the snow. I’ll quote Rumi: “I don’t get tired of you. / Don’t grow weary of being compassionate toward me!” And I’ll reread the poem, “The Gift,” by Raymond Carver which ends:
This morning there’s snow everywhere. We remark on it.
You tell me you didn’t sleep well. I say
I didn’t either. You had a terrible night. “Me too.”
We’re extraordinarily calm and tender with each other
as if sensing the other’s rickety state of mind.
As if we knew what the other was feeling. We don’t,
of course. We never do. No matter.
It’s the tenderness I care about. That’s the gift
this morning that moves and holds me.
Same as every morning.
The lines by Carver say everything I could want to say this morning. The snow, the poor sleeping, the rickety state of our minds, not to mention my body, especially at the long end of winter, somehow. The tenderness.
The huge amounts of solitude one needs for one’s work. How you have to love the solitude, crave it, continually fight for it, but also, it does things to you over time, right? And then, the constant worry, the obscurity, which is perhaps better for one’s art than the opposite. The clinging to one's solitude, the way that snow will cling to a branch, the sun hollowing out the snow, shrinking and crystallizing it.
Yesterday on my winter-weary, morning walk the coyote was out in the field we stroll by most days, the field by the highway, pouncing on mice under the snow. The coyote must be winter-weary by now as well, feeding its sorrow with skinny winter mice. The dog went merrily along, not even noticing thank goodness.
I can’t stop thinking about these lines by Theodore Roethke either:
And these words are followed in my mind by those of Lewis Carroll:
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says - Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
I’m going to go on feeding my sorrow and my insomnia and my winter-weariness. But at the same time, I’m going to remember love, I’m going to remember that the snow loves the fields. And here’s another thing that I think I must remember deep in my skin, that I, like Neruda, belong to winter:
I am a book of snow, a spacious hand, an open meadow,
a circle that waits,
I belong to the earth and its winter
As much as I love the green and golden light of summer, the fresh loam of spring, the pleasant winding down of fall, it’s the book of snow I most want to write, that I most want to inhabit. I think it’s most true to say that I belong to winter.