Growing up in Minnesota, I've always known winter is the season of thinking and writing and looking inwards. The days are short and the nights are long and cold and quiet except for the sound of snowplows scraping past on the road. When I was a kid, I would bundle up and trudge through the snowdrifts to the dark of my backyard every day after school. If the snow was deep enough, and it often was, I would stand as stiff as a board and fall straight back, letting the snow catch me, a trust fall with no one. On my back, I would watch snow drift down past the bare branches of the big oak tree that grew behind my house, trying not to blink as snow landed on my face and lashes. I’d stay there until dinnertime, marveling that summer existed at all.
When I wrote the poem “Funk, Sex, & Chocolate Milk,” it was winter in Chicago, a season of frozen extremities and introspection, of looking out my windows and into someone else's. A time for pining and imagining. It was my last semester of school and my world was being upturned by the uncertainty of the future. I couldn't say where I would be or what I would be doing in six months, and I think I could have latched onto anything during that time. It happened to be meditation, and the boy who played trombone and lived down the street began inviting me to meditate with him in his attic every afternoon. To get to the makeshift shrine he’d made, you had to climb up a rickety ladder that pulled down from the ceiling and led to a crawl space crowded with broken lamps, then into a small room with steep, sloped ceilings and a tiny broken window that let in a brutal draft but little sunlight. I spent hours there with him in silence, counting my breaths, hoping he was listening to my breathing as closely as I was listening to his.
Even at the height of my infatuation, I had a sense that it would not last, that like the snow and everything else we can see and touch, it would change, melting into some other form. I was obsessed with this idea all of winter and spring as I watched the snow melt into water, freeze into ice, then change back to spring melt again, filling the gutters and drain pipes that emptied into Lake Michigan.
All winter long I penned poetry about him, the object of my fleeting affection.
"Did I imagine," I wrote, "the way our feet began to shuffle slower, slower on the ice outside our separate homes as we drew nearer?"
By the time spring turned into summer, my crush had evaporated with the snow, like I had predicted. But the longing and wanting was real enough that I am transported back to that winter each time I reread this poem. And that is the reason I write, I suppose: to hold onto things that I otherwise cannot.
“Funk, Sex, & Chocolate Milk”
He presents these as the three best things,
nothing barred, and I think
of nothing else for two straight days.
I lie in bed, I fantasize, I drink wine
in the afternoon. I do dishes
in my underwear. I see his trombone
in the window as I walk home in the
cold that clutches lungs, immortalizes
cheeks, if briefly. It’s mortalizing to want
someone. It’s flesh, desire, weakness.
He has a chalkboard by his door. Among
the poems and scribbles is the word
“PERMANENCE” which I ask if I can add
an IM- to. (No.) I ask if he’d be mad. (Yes.)
I meditate on madness, on chocolate, funk,
and sex and snow. Red wine tastes like blood
when you’re drinking it alone. I do.
I drink and watch the snowflakes fall.
Collecting imperceptibly. They’ll melt,
as will desire, as will flesh. Cocoa
won’t grow in the forest forever,
and we know this, we know this.
Tracy Fuad lives and teaches in Brooklyn and is working on her first chapbook. Her poem, “Funk, Sex, & Chocolate Milk,” appeared in issue 298.2 of North American Review.
Photo by Jon Zander.