(The Great Michigan Ice Storm)
12/21, 10:42 p.m.: the power goes out—
Comes on, goes out, comes on,
Goes out for good. We wait.
Freezing rain pelts the skylights above us, holes to the night sky, no moon. Trees along the river creak and groan, black branches twisted in ice, hiss and split, undoing themselves all through the night. 500 pounds per quarter inch of ice for this glaze event, this silver thaw. The weight breaks whole trees, snaps them like tinder. Sometimes one bad thing happens after another, everything I touch and everything that touches me is a poison, a toxic thistle no one should brush up against much less eat, an invasive species that can’t be stopped. I want to pull this bad spell out at the root, yank it to kingdom come but there is no at the root; the tendrils of misfortune, spiny and studded and tenacious, have spread underground all the way to the river and neither fire nor flood nor ice can destroy them.
12/22, 7:59 a.m.: with trackers strapped to our boots, we walk the iced-over ground, find post-apocalyptic trees ripped open, gaping, split down the middle the way my mother’s hair turned grey in one streak of lightening after her husband died, caught in a collapsed steel mine. A million little matchsticks are strewn across the frozen wastes, dogwoods and serviceberries bowed down and sunk into the snow. There’s something about not being able to do a thing that makes me let go, step out of myself, give over and give up the idea that I control anything. I am at the mercy of the storm; I am not entitled to a happy life, to food or warmth or berries at my feet. I can make nothing happen. I am but an honored guest at the ice buffet.
from the plateau of yard
down the canal of railway ties
cut into the snow-crusted hill;
in an epic push
to stand on the frozen river,
a new birth story;
See the gap between
the river’s ice
exposed tree roots—
a thaw zone.
A rusty drain pipe
2 feet in width
down the side of a yard
hangs over the river’s edge
a frozen waterfall
stillbirth in its mouth;
uprooted trees sprung free
sprawl across ice:
One winter when I was seven, skating on the river below our house with kids from the neighborhood, Mike’s dog Rusty fell into a hole, a thaw zone, near the stone bridge. I fell in after him, the ice splintering all around me as I tried to pull us out. The hole got bigger and bigger until no one could reach us and the kids receded to the banks.
We see no one on the river—it is as if we are the last people alive, the last couple. No one ventures out to survey the damage, to clear the glass trees lit through with sunlight, to see the spun, blown glass arching over the river. The field’s maize-colored grasses, heavy with ice, kneel over—whole fields of them bowed in submission. We walk on the river, not the land. Why do I feel melancholy walking in the middle of the Red Cedar River? Has my mood been created by my memory or has the river created it? I remember what it was like to swim under the ice, to be unable to touch bottom, to wait for rescue.
Too cold, the footing too treacherous. Not even the squirrels are out and the deer are bedded together deep wherever deer go in a storm front. They aren’t ready to venture out yet. Not more than a week ago, when I was washing dishes, I looked up from the sink and saw a herd of deer across the river in the snow-filled woods. They were running in wide circles, looping round and round the horizon. No one was chasing them, but the chase was in their blood.
There, the concrete remains of an abandoned bridge: a face to be written on.
Under the new bridge on Dobie Road, a carcass of a deer. Recently enough killed that the blood still mixes in the snow and ice: mess of fur, bare leg bones, and a fleshless rib cage. No stink in this cold. Was it hit by a car, did it limp to the river to die or did it fall through the ice and drown? The coyotes found it—the coyotes whose existence some people dispute here in mid-Michigan—but I’ve seen at least one coyote running on the edge of the bank by the river, an outlier. Sometimes the deer want to cross from one side of the river to the other. Last winter one stood at the edge of our yard for the longest time looking out at the river. She wanted to cross—I could feel it. I wanted to cross over too. She was wondering if the river was frozen enough to support her. The snow had formed a bed over the ice, making it hard to tell how thick the ice was. If she ventured across she would fall in and then I would fall in too.
12/22, 5:03 p.m.: darkness falls. House lit with candles. Standing at the sink in the faintly-lit dark, I feel something outside my windows in the backyard. Sometimes before seeing I feel a change in vibrations, a rearrangement of the atoms in the air. I walk outside to the balcony and below me a large herd of deer, come out of hiding at the end of the day, gather and look up at me in a strange kind of healing on this winter night. A motley crew, scruffy and winter-dark—the edges of their separate bodies disintegrate, undone by the night. Waiting for a sign that the storm is over, that the creaking and groaning and splitting will cease, they look to me as if I am their patron saint.