Twenty-five below

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Calling it cold doesn’t quite cover it. One more night into the double-digits below zero and then finally the temperatures will start to go back up. It’s been a long time to just call it a “snap.” Mostly, folks just hunker down or venture out only as far as the drive to start the car – (if it will start) – then back in to warm up while the engine warms up, too.

But it can also have a mysterious allure, especially at night, in the clear air under the big moon, that can draw one out the door. Here’s a new poem for a bone-cold night.

Twenty-five below

I walk out into dope-slap cold
clad in a space-suit of layers
under sparking stars, bold
beside an arc lamp moon.
All silent, but for creaking snow
and cracking trees which loom,
making unintelligible gestures,
black against midnight blue.

Somewhere I saw it written,
in the hieroglyphs of frost
which crept across the window,
in the snow code mice write
in panic under shadow
of the owl. Some message only
moonlight unveils, only walking
wakes, only cold makes plain.

Breathing daggers, exhaling smoke,
I shamble across the back yard
casting about for the arcane sign,
to find a doe a-shiver in the sumac
who startles back into pine.
Startled, too, I step back toward
the distant porch light’s shine.
I could catch my death out here.

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10 Comments on “Twenty-five below”

  1. Rosella Todd Valentine says:

    As I read your poem, “Twenty-Five Below,” I remember that kind of cold rather vividly. I was born, brought up, and lived most of my teaching career in the North Country. We now reside in Central Florida, where we are ourselves experiencing very cold conditions, but they would seem very welcome to you folks up there right now.

  2. Dale Burnett says:

    Love the poem. I can so relate! Your descriptions and metaphors bring me there.

  3. great poem! – i remember that cold. Sitting at my computer, dressed in layers, wrapped in a blanket because the heating system can’t compete with the wind. We have moved to the outer Cape Cod, stunningly beautiful, but they call it Cape Wind….

  4. Mary Shubert says:

    Love your poetry, Dale! “Dope slap cold” goes right along with our calling it stupid cold. Thanks for being there.

  5. Beautiful poem, Dale. In regard to your comment about the ‘doe-a-shiver in the sumac,’ my dog and I ran across a doe holed-up in snow behind a tree on our late afternoon, cross-country ski venture on Thursday. Sheba surprised the doe, still lying down, and flipped over and began back rubbing her frantically, until my calls finally allowed the poor animal to scamper away, unharmed. Sheba loves to chase deer, but only as sport, I think. What a magic moment; I wish I had my phone with me to capture it. Sheba doesn’t have a cruel bone in her big, beautiful, athletic body.



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  7. John Omohundro says:

    I always look forward to Dale’s poems. This is a fine one. Appreciate that mystical sense of “looking for a sign”. And then he leaves it up to the reader to decide whether he found it or not. How about a nomination as North Country’s poet laureate!

  8. Vera LaRoe says:

    In the beginning of a new year I look for hope and take a breath and be still and wait for that moment when I find it. This is one of those moments. Everyone should look to poetry for insight and inspiration.
    Buried under the north country snows is this gem. The photo was spot on. Thank you Dale Hobson, the North Country poet laureate. Nominated and seconded.

  9. Rosella Todd Valentine says:

    I second John’s nomination to propose Dale’s naming as “North Country Poet Laureate!” This poem is excellent!

    Rosella in Leesburg, Florida

  10. Mr. Wakiki says:


    i am the cliché

    tea kettle and cup in hand
    i stand on the porch

    i have the edge of a super moon
    to highlight my toss of a sacrifice
    to the crush of cold

    throwing stream to the sky
    and watching it

    shower down in a chador
    of the street light

    ‘how romantic,’ i think
    if i could seal the moment with
    a kiss and preamble embrace

    even if it might mean the sacrifice
    of a layer of skin

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