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Poet’s Corner: A moment in winter

To See it
 
We need to separate to see
the life we’ve made.
We need to leave our house
where someone waits for us, patiently,
warm beneath the sheets.
We need to don a sweater, a coat, mittens,
wrap a scarf around our neck,
stride down the road,
a cold winter morning,
and turn our head back,
to see it – perched
on the top of the hill, our life
lit from inside.
— Laura Foley
 
Laura Foley is the author of six poetry collections, including “WTF” and “Night Ringing.” Her next collection, “Why I Never Finished My Dissertation,” will be coming out in 2019. Her poem “Gratitude List” won the Common Good Books contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; “Nine Ways of Looking at Light” won the Outermost Contest, judged by Marge Piercy. She lives with her wife and their two dogs among the hills of Pomfret, Vermont. Please see: laurafoley.net.
 
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Many of us may have had an experience of leaving our place of comfort for a while, intentionally or not, and ended up gaining a new perspective or appreciation. I remember feeling this way in my early teens, walking home from Catholic Church school on Monday nights in the late fall, taking in the scent of wood smoke, glancing into soft lit homes along the street, and catching small movements of figures across rooms.
I remember lingering sometimes as I approached my family’s house. The feeling was one of being part of two worlds, one being the world outside looking in, almost like a small god, and the other being the world I was about to reenter. I remember anticipating the warmth and love I would feel from my parents when I walked through the door, yet also feeling a small sadness at leaving behind whatever it was I was experiencing outside, which I remember as a budding sense of freedom and a clear connectedness to everything.
Reading Ms. Foley’s poem, we see the obvious — a person taking a walk alone, having the sudden experience of looking back on her life in a very literal and physical way, but also with emotional immediacy. For some readers, feelings of gratitude and appreciation might come up at this moment; for others, something very different might. Initially, I felt the goodness of how it must have felt to go back, but was also vaguely aware of the possibility of more beneath the surface of the poem. “On the top of the hill, our life/ lit from inside,” she writes. But where is the speaker? She is some distance away; she is pausing, looking back. I can’t help but feel that the person who “waits for us, patiently/ warm beneath the sheets” may have been, and might still be, waiting a long time.
By the end, the poem brings to mind an image of Janus, the Roman God of two faces with one looking forward, one back. We are left with the powerful image of the speaker “perched” on the top of the hill. Her head is looking back, but her body seems to still be facing forward. I consider for the first time that perhaps she doesn’t go back, or if she does, how might she go back differently?
We are left to pause with her, in this rich place of circumspection and quiet uncertainty that seems so full of emptiness and possibility, all at the same time.
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Susan Jefts is a poet and educator living near Middlebury, Vermont, whose work has been published throughout the state and country, most recently in the “Vermont Anthology, Birchsong, Volume II. She is currently finalizing a book of poetry and will be offering workshops this winter exploring the richness that this season offers . For more info, contact her at sjefts7@gmail.com. Her website is manyriverslifeguidance.com

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