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Song for the Coming of Winter

Kutchins, Laurie

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: January 2005 - Volume 105 - Issue 1 - p 53
FEATURES: Art of Nursing

“Song for the Coming of Winter,” a poem; commentary by Joy Jacobson.

Laurie Kutchins is an associate professor in English at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA. She has published two books of poems:Between Towns (Texas Tech University Press, 1993) and The Night Path (BOA Editions, 1997); a new collection is forthcoming from BOA.

Joy Jacobson, AJN’ s managing editor and a poet, says this about the poem: We were sitting in her backyard in Singers Glen, Virginia, when I first heard my good friend Laurie Kutchins read aloud “Song for the Coming of Winter.” It was early autumn, warm and breezy; her father had died the previous December, and her recent poems dipped into that loss. In Laurie’s voice the words were an invocation, and the world seemed to listen. Even the breezes stilled.

Much of Laurie’s work marks time by weather and season. In this poem, the first line of each couplet conveys an image—an archetype—of winter life and of one particular winter death: the frozen sidewalk the old man will never stroll down again; the meals others will eat and clear away; the blizzard organizing its external threats and the tumor finalizing its internal ones; and, finally, the barometric drop about to rumble death into the room.

An interior voice responds in the second line of each couplet, symbolizing the struggle of the dying. The “old man” who begins the poem (Old Man Winter?) is released at the end as a “baby.” In the intervening lines, the speaker commands herself to allow him to collapse, dissolve, and form again. Final forms in death are unknowable, but this is how humans survive the loss of those they love: they release them into new forms. In a mere 83 words and 14 lines—an “American sonnet,” which the poet Lucie Brock-Broido refers to as “the marriage between hysteria and haiku”—a poet seeks to remake death.

Of course, she’s not the first to attempt this. Does she succeed? “The poem is the silence,” I told Laurie that October afternoon she read the poem aloud. There was nothing else to say.

Art of Nursing is coordinated by Sylvia Foley:

Snowprints on the cold sidewalk. (Let that old man go.)

Pot roast and potatoes in the kitchen.

(Let him tantrum and collapse.)

Neither blizzard nor tumor has him.

(Let him sleep across his supper.)

So the bean pot boils over more than once.

(Let him demand of you ten hands.)

Here comes the night wind across the hearth.

(Let him dissolve into it.)

Neither moonlight nor shovel has him.

(Let him form again.)

Here comes the drop before storm.

(Let that baby go.)

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.