I took the title of this poem from a phrase that resonated with me near the end of David Helwig’s column in the March edition of the Buzz, which column is a fine little meditation on the appearance of snow buntings after a storm. I thought, “I love that phrase, ‘The gift of night and storm,’ what can I make with it?” So I wandered a while in the bright cold afternoon letting my mind explore associations.
What it settled on were my memories of my mother telling me stories about winter births in the first half of the twentieth century, including her own. And because the circumstances allowed me to play off Robert Frost, I did that too. So thank you, David Helwig, Robert Frost, and Mom. Now here’s a poem about my mother’s birth—which is as much a lie and as much a truth as any poem I’ve ever written.
The Gift of Night and Storm
What’s this that arrived in callused palms
with the last shudders of the house as the nor’easter
blew itself out? The hospital’s ten miles
as the crow flies, no nearer now in the aftermath
than it was at the height of the storm.
Might’s well be in Andromeda for all the hope
that exists of reaching it today, or of the doctor
reaching here. Even with the horse and sleigh—
such drifts the poor beast would have to breast—
they’d have no choice, mistake or no, but to stop
by woods halfway here in the growing dark.
And she’s here now healthy anyway as I wrap her
well in flannel against her shivers. I touch the dark
damp hair as Pearl says, “We’ll call her Ethel.”