North Lake

Poem By Leland James

North Lake

The arctic night
crawls down upon the ice.
Last light a strip of gray,
amber where it touches the horizon:
a tired eye about to close.
Tired of barrenness and cold.
Snowshoe tracks faint from the dawn
I now retrace on groaning ice.
The Ancient Beast nightwind howls
rising up in gales of swirling snow.
Away too long, too long alone.

No light shines before me.
Dark cabin windows mock
my coming from the cold.
No trail of smoke: the sunrise fire
long turned to shivering ashes.
My refuge reclaimed,
like my tracks upon the snow.
The cabin door frail as lace.
Rime frost, the morning fog,
winter’s breath crept in between the logs,
drifts, a ghostly shroud, upon the floor.
A skim of ice where water spilled
lies near the stove; a careless act,
like this late coming from the cold.
The winter unforgiving.
With habits frozen deep,
I light the lamp, I bolt the door.

The amber eye has closed,
ending the world outside.
Windows black as midnight ice.
The Beast now screams
against the cabin walls,
claws digging at the rag-stuffed cracks.
The rags hard frozen, brittle.
The Beast, enraged, grasping for its prey.
The lamplight faint, a jagged glow,
stuttering as if the rattled windows
were its voice saying I must hurry,
hurry with the stove.
The iron heart of northern places.

I choose the precious wood,
placing it with care.
A sacred nest of twigs I lay below.
In trembling hand, the match ignites.
I watch the fire awhile,
still kneeling on the floor.
The split wood blackens slowly.
Wisps of flame, like phantoms,
dart and disappear.
I close the iron door, listen for the draft:
the fire’s first steady breath,
the chimney warmed.
Listening for the promise
flames will grow,
praying deliverance
from barrenness and cold
—away too long, too long alone—
pray to deny the Beast my soul:
drifting into dreams of morning coals
glowing like cherries in the snow.

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