by Theodora Goss
My soul said, let us visit Lady Winter.
Why? I responded. Look, the leaves still lie
yellow and red and orange in the gutters.
The geese float on the river. On the sidewalks,
puddles continue to reflect the sky.
My soul said, the branches are bare.
And you can feel it, can’t you, in your bones?
The chill that is a promise of her coming.
The year is growing older. Anyway,
you haven’t seen her in so long: it’s time.
We put on our visiting hats.
I stood admiring myself in the mirror
while my soul stood beside me looking pensive
and pale. Was she a little sick? I wondered.
Lady Winter lives on an ancient street
lined with elms that canker has not touched,
in a tall brownstone with lace curtain panels,
empty window boxes, two stone lions.
We rang the bell and heard it echoing.
A maid opened the door. Her name is Frost.
My lady looked the way she always does:
white hair, a string of pearls, rings on her fingers,
age somewhere between forty and four thousand,
a kind, implacable smile.
She said, my dear, what’s wrong? You don’t look well.
What, me? I’m fine. Perfectly fine, I said.
My soul just shook her head.
My lady has a parlor with a fireplace
in which I’ve never seen a fire. Instead,
it’s filled with decorative branches. Doilies
lie like snowflakes on the tables, bookshelves,
over the backs of armchairs.
She’s always wearing a gray cashmere sweater
and expensive shoes. She must have a closetful.
She usually serves us tea and ladyfingers.
But this time she said, I want you to go to bed.
Frost will take you upstairs, then I’ll come up
to cover you in blankets of felted wool,
comforters stuffed with down from eider ducks
that nest by Norwegian fjords. I’ll read you books
of fairytales about bears and princesses,
and stolen crowns, and castles beneath the sea,
and northern lights.
Grandmothers who grant wishes, talking reindeer,
a village in the clouds.
I’ll talk to you until you fall asleep.
Your soul will sit and watch through the long night.
From time to time she’ll take your temperature
to make sure you’re all right.
So I lay down in Lady Winter’s guest room:
reluctantly, but it looked so inviting,
a bed with draperies and a painted ceiling
from which the moon was hanging
by a silver chain.
My soul sat down beside me.
Don’t worry, she said. There’s plenty for me to do.
Poetry to embroider, plans to knit.
I’ll wake you when the crocuses have broken
through the black soil, when warmth has come again.
Then Lady Winter put her soft, dry hand
like paper on my forehead
and she said
(The image is by Elizabeth Sonrel.)