Stephanie McKenzie’s “The Disciples of Winter”


Winter has come and gone for another year, but there are always remembrances, little leftovers both tangible and beyond our reach that remain to let us know there’s more to come down the road.  A couple months back I read just such a remebrance; Grace Must Wander, Stephanie McKenzie’s second collection of poems published by Ireland’s Salmon Poetry in 2009, and was delighted to find “The Disciples of Winter” at the very end of the book:

Grace must wander even with the lonely sight of crows,
the purple and the purple black, each one spotted
like a snowflake, fingerprint. Birds sing of other worlds
that are not grown here but happen somewhere out there
in the land of blow away the dead and make a wish
we give to children. They have learned to stretch their necks
out, offer up their throats on blue platters of the sky, do not seek
pity, feel shame. Their feathers fallen give us leave to ponder.
Consider the city. It mimics the crow, black throat
caught at the chords sings out a promise of day.
Evening, and morning, and at noon, transparent
and bound to truth, the knowing of winter is clean,
like a scar storied and sure of where it’s been.

There’s a sense of longing to be elsewhere, to explore those “other worlds / that are not grown here”; to wait out winter for the eventual revelation of spring. The crows are more than birds; they are messengers, prophets preaching a future full of grace that is open to those who keep the faith, patiently watch the world, the city, the days passing hours at a time. The risk in this kind of faith, whether it be in the Christian god, nature or the general passage of time is something very personal and not to be taken lightly. That said, it must be taken, just as the crows “offer up their throats on blue platters of the sky”; they know what they’re doing. There’s a belief in them synonomous with who they are and reaching that realization is the greater part of the journey.


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