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Poetry Friday: Winter Solstice

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We are just past the Winter Solstice, which means the days are starting to get longer again. But there’s still a ways to go before the cold nights give way to spring. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, our seasonal poet Rob Bettaso reflects on the dark days of winter. For him, they often conjure memories of the past. In his poem Thermal Shirts and Wool Socks, Rob remembers the winters of his childhood in Michigan and shares visceral flashbacks of his beloved mother.

 RB: Winter is not my favorite season, to be direct about it. There are things I like about winter: I like the snow, and I like skiing, and I enjoy certain aspects of it. But, it’s just the darkness; the long, cold nights and being cooped-up so much of the time and indoors. I’m not a big fan.

When you’re by yourself and you’re waiting for the day to start and it’s dark, I don’t know…I tend to find myself thinking about both the past and the future. And when I think of the past, I think of people in my life, especially people who are gone. I mean, as banal as it is, you can’t help but notice – especially as you get older – how fast the time goes by. So, it makes you think about the people who are gone. It’s a bittersweet kind of thing. It’s a good memory but also sad.

My mom, after raising 5 kids, she went back to college and got a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree in Library Sciences, and she took a job in the Livonia, Michigan public library. She was a big reader, so I guess that’s part of the reason I like poetry and prose and any kind of books, really, because she was always bringing books home from the library.

Ok, I’d like to read a poem I wrote called Thermal Shirts and Wool Socks. It was written drinking coffee in bed, just, you know, propped up against the pillows, and just waiting for it to get light, just being contemplative.

Winter Solstice's first morn,

It may be the shortest day of the year,

But I'm an early bird,

Year-round.

Think not, Summer's sweetly singing Tanager,

It's now a muted, Mountain Chickadee,

Perched, shivering, on a spruce bough,

In the black, pre-dawn.

Without bird song,

Nor early light,

Clad in long-johns,

I struggle to find reason,

To start the day right.

I reflect back,

To yesterday's final Fall day.

Already, I was slipping on icy walkways,

Flexing fingers, to fight the cold.

Passing the Dollar Store,

An opening and closing door,

Wafting warmth and dime-store odors,

Took me to Woolworths,

In Detroit city, 1963,

Where my mom bought me thermal shirts,

And woolen socks, against Winter's approach.

Holding me by the wrist and

Hustling, against the cold.

In my still dim den,

Now almost 60 years on,

She's been gone,

Nearly 40 of those years.

Funny to think that

An old man like me,

Would still recall his mother

So vividly, across such a span of years.

But it’s Winter now,

And from my bed,

I can smell

The dime-store air,

As if it was yesterday.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu. 

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Gillian came to KNAU in 2001 as a freelance reporter. Her first story won an Arizona Associated Press Award. Since then, Gillian has won more than a dozen Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting, writing, editing and documentary work. She served as KNAU’s local Morning Edition anchor for many years before becoming News Director and Managing editor in 2013. When she’s not working, Gillian likes to spend time in the natural world with her dog, Gertie. She is an avid hiker, skier, swimmer, and reader.