Susan Elbe

Winter Solstice

I wake too early, still thick with sleep and dream.

Outside, empty streets slick with fog ice,
                    no stopping this slide
                                        into the longest night

though they say the unset moon
                    flickering behind dim clouds
                                                            slows the turn.

                                        : :

I pull on warm socks, run my stiff hands
                    under hot water, turn on
                                        all the lamps

against this dirty-window day
                    when the world won't mirror back

and I must look instead into myself.

                                        : :

I move through these murky hours,
                    wallowing in the poor light that shifts

                                        back and forth between
                                                            pearl and slate,
                                                                                oyster and clay.

                                        : :

When the real dusk swales in,
                    I push off
                                        my own frail boat of light.

It wobbles out
                    and into
                                        the miraculous churning

dark, the dark I sometimes think I love
                                        too much,

its tidal rush,
                    how it reeks of blown sky,
                                                            and the loneliness

of those who walk great distances to holy places,
                                        who know joy can only grow

when we allow the shadow in.

                                        : :

Night begins clanging like a buoy.



Because It Was Winter

Because it was winter and I was lonely,
and a fierce wind broke the lacy stencil
of hoarfrost on tavern windows,

because the radiator made it too warm,
though its hissing called to December
snaking in under the door,

because the colored lights blinked off and on
at the laundromat across the street
and out on the lake, a strange

nativity lit by lantern light, cold men
inside wooden shanties, hand-auguring
holes in the ice to jig for hungry fish,

because two guys with no gloves shivered
in the alley and passed a joint, snow
sugaring their too-thin coats,

because there was a war, and every boy knew
his lottery number by heart, held it
under his tongue like a pill,

because the ones who came back stayed quiet
in their knowing while the rest of us
watched others die on nightly news,

because the world keeps repeating itself-
we're always lonely in our being
human and there's always a war—

because, young as I was, already I knew
days dull as iron and days burning
with a fire for what comes next,

because decades later, the frozen lake cracks
like gunshot, my back complains,
and night is again full of white moths.


Susan Elbe is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the Jacar Press 2014 Julie Suk Prize for the best book of poetry published by an independent press in 2013, and Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry, 2007), as well as two chapbooks, Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press, 2012), winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Chapbook prize, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary journals and anthologies, including Blackbird, diode, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, online at Verse Daily, Watching the Perseids: The Backwaters Press 20th Anniversary Anthology (The Backwaters Press, 2017), and New Poetry from the Midwest (New American Press, Fall 2016). Susan has previously served on the Council for Wisconsin Writers Board of Directors and on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You can learn more about her at