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Pomegranates in Winter



The fluffiest snow came down yesterday from a vagrant storm brewing over Canada and then roaming around until it reached our dry little patch of rocks here in central Vermont. Such cottony balls of make-believe fell with a certain joy of hitting the ground and disappearing. It was like heaven was cleaning the house and shaking out the feather pillows. I could hear a certain imaginary chatter as hands tossed up the pillows and let them nose-dive into the lumpy mattress of some mythical god still too sleepy to wake up. I wonder what dust is in that far away palace, or what the dinner conversation might be about. Black trees loomed over the bloodless earth, dotted here and there with a dark outcrop of granite and the sprigs of certain dormant saplings. The random language of rabbit prints decorated the linen skin of my yard, and a fox, if it was a fox, had been around and went off to its den too bored to hunt for skittery game. 

You can’t meditate on snow properly without a mug of coffee and the lingering perfume of toast in the counter oven. You should also be wearing your dark red robe and fur-lined moccasins in order to whisper across the carpet to gaze on another window, this one glaring like polished silver with all the sudden bleached reality beyond it. Winter has its gifts to bring down from remote corners of the sky. Add to the luminous balloons of snow piled up in the maple branches and a few crows spiraling in charcoal swirls over the unwritten page of afternoon and you are sated on the mild beauty of frozen nature. If I were young again, I’d be out there tossing snowballs at my neighbor’s kids, but the kids are grown and raising new kids too young to venture out and pitch some cotton candy globes at once another. 

The plows were out last night, around two in the morning, moving sluggishly down the road in a dazzle of yellow phosphor. The snow landed softly with fingers of powdery diamond dust on the high fenders and the corners of the windows. The wipers sloshed back and forth and somewhere inside the cabin was a young driver working on an early breakfast sandwich lovingly prepared by his wife. Lucky man. Radio murmured the details of road traffic and one or two spin-outs. The rest of the world slept in various dreams, some rowing across the lake, others wading through the marsh with rifle in one hand. A deer was lurking in the hump of dry land ahead, and an eager hunter was scouring the scrub and tangle looking for him. But dreams are like fluffy snowfall, sifting the empty air and reaping the invisible nothing without conclusion. 

Snow reminds me of the chalky blackboards of my childhood, the ones I was required to wash with a fat sponge and a bucket of water. A nun would occasionally check up on me to see that my labors were done in earnest. When finished I would take the erasers out into the crisp air and clap them noisily, like some fanatic opera lover after an aria. I piled up the text books in the supply closet and emptied the waste basket in the corner. All done by four o’clock, just in time for my afternoon crackers and milk and perhaps an episode of “Howdy Doody” before my dad came home from work. In all, not a bad afternoon, with the faint promise of a snow day coming with the rumbles of another storm to our east. I had forgotten to write down my assignments in math and English. No doubt I would be sent out to stand in the gloomy corridor for an hour to examine my conscience and my bad attitude toward school. So be it. 

The sisters of our middle school were onto me. From the first day of class the whispers would begin in the chapel of who were the natural scholars, the bullies in the playground, the dullards who slumped down in the back row, and the no-goodniks like me who had mastered the art of looking attentive while my imagination soared behond the outer limits of the solar system. I ached in every nerve to step out of a rocket ship onto the foggy ground of Jupiter or Neptune, to be led by leprachauns to their king where I was invited to dine on a plate of sparkling rubies and to drink the wine of mind-numbing paradoxes. Just as I was about to put on my cumbersome wings and fly around, I heard my name called and someone behind began pinching my shoulder. Sistern Anthony had asked me who Savonarola was, and I said it was a kind of Italian sausage flavored with fennel. Another demerit, another sponge and water bucket afternoon. I couldn’t quite find the clutch on my consciousness or to know when the teacher’s voice was lowering and getting ready to spring some impossible question on me. 

Savonarola, I learned later, was burned at the stake in Rome after denouncing the pope on numerous grounds, including his love of fine painting to decorate the Vatican walls. He was a 15th century ascetic, a right-winger of his day, who would have fit in with the ultra-right Republicans in the House. They would have idolized him. He hated women, art, individualism, self-initiatie, the liberal soul, the quest for self-fulfillment outside authority. He was made of pig iron and could not compromise on any issue. He gave no ground to the most powerful people above him, who detested his rigidity and his obsession to purify the self and rid it of any lingering traces of libido that might be lurking under his gloomy robes. He was the perfect pitchman for monsters like Ron De Santis, Greg Abbot, Donald Trump, Tommy Tuberville, the late Trent Lott, the still-living Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConell, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Bobert, Matt Gaetz, and a host of other goons of the frozen wastelands of neo-conservativism. No wonder I couldn’t answer the question of my needling teacher. If I had only the far-sightedness to glimpse what would become of Savonarola’s poisonous mind, I would have gladly ranted for an hour on the dangers of revering anyone like him. He was, like his colleague in the Nazi regimes of the medieval church, Torquemada, a tormentor akin to the devils in Hieronymous Bosch’s paintings of hell and damnation. But I sat down at my desk and awaited my punishment of an hour of idling in the hallway, kibbutzing with sympathetic janitors on why I was polishing the tiles under my feet most days. 

Snow is like dead minds shedding their last dregs of hope and curiosity. It falls in slanted malice to the ground and accumulates like the erasures of wisdom that I was left to wash away many afternoons. The water I poured into the drain in the school basement was filled with the dying voices of freedom and desire, and I hardly knew it. I just carried a hump on my back full of resentment and grief that I was wasting my youth in these dimly lit classrooms with their odor of radiator rust in winter, and the moldy stink of damp raincoats from the cloak room come spring. But there were pomegranates waiting at the grocer’s bin. I had just enough nickels in my pocket to solace me and to give me the joy of some pagan lust for sunlight as I bit into the fat red berries. I could make it home in one piece and sit in the light of the window facing the cemetery with a certain glow of iniquitous energy boiling in my gut. 


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