Poetry Sunday:
“Before the Killing Frost,” by Diana Whitney

[From the WVFC Poetry Archives, first published September 15, 2019]


Before the Killing Frost

It was too much to ask.
The weeds stopped growing.
And September’s tangle was free

for the taking— yellow fist apples
blackberry thumbs, wild ginger
glazing the cedar woods. Yes

everything promised
had come to pass. Even the burning bush
turned crimson. And we lay down

on the creeping thyme bed
under the sunflower roof.

Dark red pansy. Darker beet.

The tomatoes’ green glass
refusing to blush.
I took down the ladder

took down my hair, dug holes
for the tulip bulbs
shedding gold skin. Planted

those hard white tears
in their skins.
Last harvest.

The sudden geese
parting the air. My life

rushing past me again.


From Wanting It (Harbor Mountain Press 2014), reprinted here with permission of the author and press and available for order here and as an e-book here.

Read reviews of Wanting It here, here, and here, and author interviews are here and here.


Diana Whitney writes across the genres with a focus on desire, sexuality, and feminism. Her first book, Wanting It, became an indie bestseller in 2014 and won the Rubery Book Award in poetry. As the poetry critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, she features women authors and marginalized voices in her column. Her personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, The Washington Post, Longreads, and many more, and her poems have appeared in Green Mountains Review, Puerto del Sol, Tinderbox, and others. A yoga teacher by day and a feminist activist by night, Diana lives in Southern Vermont with her husband and two teen daughters. She recently finished a memoir-in-essays about generational patterns of female silence.


Poet’s Note

I wrote this poem nearly two decades ago in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, when my life was ordered by the rhythms of the seasons and my work in the gardens. “Before the Killing Frost” is suffused with longing for the natural world—an almost physical grief at summer’s end—and the longing for a beloved. The poem suggests a “we” relationship that is also ending, though that was a poetic liberty I took because at the time I was single and living with several roommates in an old farmhouse on a dirt road. The Vermont landscape itself became a kind of lover for me then, a source of imagery, meaning, and consolation. I often distinguish between “truth” and “fact” in creative writing, how the biographical facts of one’s life are separate from the emotional truth of the poem. Rereading this poem now fills me again with yearning for a youthful freedom twined with loneliness when I felt intimately connected to the lives of the flowers, plants, and animals around me.

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