04: The Heart of Winter

What is the difference between stillness and silence?

In a poem I tried to write about winter three years ago, I wrote: “this city is not silent / but everything is holding still / except the trees who are always waving.” It didn’t make it into the book and a few weeks ago, I commented to someone at my internship that there should be an entire literary publication dedicated to poems that don’t make it into the book, organized by book. I would ask the poets, Who didn’t make it? (For the drama.) I would call the journal Ghost.

Recently I watched a movie about a mother and a daughter which was full of ghosts and winter. In that movie, ghosts are not the souls of the dead but the things we cannot say. It is a master class in restraint. It forgoes useless dialogue for long slow shots of people’s faces and strange endearing moments of awkwardness. I liked that two languages—Korean and Japanese—were so wholly present. Not for what they opened but for what they closed.

Languages, as they open you can also allow you to close. When I felt myself running towards seclusion, I heard my grandmother and my great-grandfather urging me to try—and how much harder one must try when learning to love. [My grandmother] never asked me to speak but to understand, rather than endure to forgive, and never to sacrifice, only to let go.

E. J. Koh, The Magical Language of Others

Édouard Glissant writes that opacity is our right to remain unknowable to each other even as we reach for each other. To allow the unexplainable to remain unexplained is a grace. Transparency is not synonymous with intimacy. Jun writes Yunhui a letter she will never send. “I think you would suit this place,” knowing she will never live there. “You keep showing up in my dreams,” instead of I remember you. “I clear the snow and it piles up again,” instead of I cannot forget you.

The scene at the coffee shop where the aunt and the daughter, angels and meddlers, speak to one another in English is my favourite. The truest loves of our lives are not always romantic. The winter makes us honest. It helps us remember. The poem I never finished ends, “I don’t know why I am so afraid of breathing / or so satisfied / by my hollow footsteps in the snow.”

Call the keepers of silence with their feet in the river. Call the river that used to spill over the rocks.

Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

February is the loneliest month of the year.

You might argue with me and say its January. But I think January is made of whatever emotion preempts loneliness, the hurried expectation that loneliness might arrive upon us soon and the frantic effort to prepare, to prevent. The childish dejection when we fail. One time, on a flight from Amritsar to Doha, a child cried for two hours straight, calling for her mother from her grandmother’s arms. When was the last time I missed anyone that much? I thought to myself, genuinely alarmed by the way the child’s wailing chipped at a part of my heart that lay dormant. What was behind that gray wall of patience except stupid practice—years spent tolerating being away from those I loved? How much of our capacity to feel was buried over time?

When Nana died, I only cried once. I was seventeen. I got the news when I woke up to the sound of my mother and sister wailing downstairs. I only needed to go as far as the top step to understand what had happened. I didn’t join them. I ran back to my parents’ room and hid in the closet. I rocked my stirring nephew back to sleep and went back to my room. I buried myself under blankets so no one could hear me. I hid because I wanted someone to find me. I cried because I knew he no longer could.

how do I explain

the tragedy was

in the hiding?

the love for myself

is shedding the things

I cannot carry . . .

the love we share

somehow cannot be 


‘mad, “in the hiding”

I am tired of trying to escape loneliness. Let it find me. Let it follow me into bed or on my walk. In Finnish, February is called the month of the pearl for how the snow melts then freezes again on tree branches. The forests coated in the heart of winter. In Old English, February was called Solmanath. Mud month. Today too is the start of a lunar new year, the spring festival and the year of the water tiger.

The thaw is proof. Here comes enough warmth, enough to become something new.

I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

Ross Gay, “sorrow Is not my Name’

PS: Happy Lunar New Year to all who celebrate! ♡

One thought on “04: The Heart of Winter

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