Poetry Sunday: “The Chill of Grace,” by Cathryn Shea


The Chill of Grace

Climb into the profound snow of high altitudes,
the synod of trees bent with the weight.
In guiltless knowledge of the wind, in the bitter
custody of winter, be there to listen.

Amid the stunted pines, the absence of bird song,
the attenuation of the light, your change takes place
among that radiance, may give you grace to forgive
how you raised your children.

Such a spent feast in the crystalline air
chiseled sharp that blinds you
where steam from your body struggles, escapes

above the deck of clouds. Your breath hangs
in wonder, ready to drop in an avalanche
unhinged from a cornice, thriving on moments of fury.

Sometimes we only want sun.
Then we want snow instead.
Wild like a sleeted noon,
a whiteout to erase the road.


First published in West Marin Review.


Cathryn Shea’s second chapbook, It’s Raining Lullabies, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in late 2017. Shea’s poetry has recently appeared in After the Pause, Permafrost, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox, and elsewhere, and has poems forthcoming in anthologies that include Luminous Echoes: A Poetry Anthology by Into The Void and “The New English Verse” by Cyberwit.net. In 2004, she received the Marjorie J. Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry from MARGIE. Shea serves on the editorial staff of the Marin Poetry Center and has worked in technical publishing for many years. She lives in Fairfax, California. See cathrynshea.com and @cathy_shea on Twitter.


Poet’s Note

When I wrote “The Chill of Grace,” I had been reminiscing about how I felt the first time I stepped off the ski tram at Grand Targhee on the back side of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. The tops of the pine trees were so windswept and encrusted with snow they looked like old men in white robes entering heaven. I had never seen such blue sky in contrast to blinding white snow. Below-zero air entered my lungs, and I wondered how I would make it down the slope. I had a job there after college and the seasons I spent at Grand Targhee were life-changing magic for me. I met my husband and we had two children together after moving back to a busier, urban life. The poem reflects fleeting awe, joy, and puzzles about choices and consequences out of our control. I also remembered the terror I experienced in a whiteout when a friend and I were caught on the road in a blizzard.