The Sky in Winter
By James Babbs

The sky in winter looks gray and metallic.  The sky looks close enough for me to touch.  I convince myself I really can touch it and I know how crazy this sounds so I don’t tell anyone else about it.  I just sit quietly thinking about the sky. When I’m alone I reach up and touch it and the sky feels just the way I thought it would.  It feels smooth and it’s cold. It freezes the ends of my fingers.  I shove them into my mouth, sucking on them, trying to get them warm.

Did you see the sky? I asked her later that day.
We were sitting around the kitchen table.  She was reading a book.
What about it? She said without looking up.
I already regretted mentioning it.  Oh, nothing really.
She looked at me.  What do you mean, nothing?  She let her breath out slow and heavy.  I hate it when you do that.
When you start talking about something, she said.  But then you stop because you think I’m not interested.
Okay, I told her, picking up the glass in front of me and taking a drink of water.  She closed her book and sat it down on the table.
I glanced at the picture on the cover.  What? I said.  I was still holding the glass watching the ice cubes bobbing up and down in the water.
The sky, she said.
Oh.  I put down the glass.  I don’t know.  It just looked kind of strange to me.  It reminded me of a painting or something.  You know, beautiful looking but not real.
She didn’t say anything.  She just leaned back in her chair.  She started biting her lip and looking out the window.

I remember the sky in winter looking stark and beautiful. I could see it through the window without getting out of bed. I remember the warmth of her body lying next to mine.  The way she suddenly shifted and started murmuring in her sleep.  I remember turning to look at her face.  How empty I felt inside but couldn’t explain why.  Listening to the sounds the wind made in the dead of night.  Every now and then convincing myself the wind was calling my name.

You forgot your gloves, she said.
I was taking my coat off and hanging it in the closet.  I know, I said.  I always forget them.  I guess I need to put them in my coat pockets.
She was sitting in the chair next to the window, the open book lying in her lap.  She had her hand lying across the page she’d been reading when I came in.  I walked to the kitchen where my gloves were still on the table.  Sounds like we could get a lot of snow tonight, I said.
I came back into the living room and shoved the gloves into my coat before closing the closet door.  Oh? She said.  I hadn’t heard.
Yeah, maybe four to six inches.
That’s not so bad, she said.  I just don’t like it when the wind blows.
Yeah, I said.  I know what you mean.

And that bright and frozen morning when I climbed out of bed and saw the ground covered with snow.  The way it deadened the sound of my footsteps when I trudged out to the car.  And after I got it started I didn’t go back into the house.  I just sat there in the front seat shivering.  My breath like tiny wisps of smoke until the car grew warm.  When I pulled out of the drive I thought I caught a glimpse of her standing near the window.  The sky in winter trying to smother us while love was sleeping in another room.  I gave the car a little more speed trying to see what I could do.  I felt the rear-end fishtailing a little bit and slowed back down.

Did you remember the milk and bread?  She asked as soon as I got into the house.  I looked down at my hands.  I was wearing the black gloves.  I held them up and showed them to her.
No, I said.  But I remembered my gloves.  She didn’t laugh and I really wasn‘t trying to be funny but it must‘ve sounded that way.
Never mind, she said.  You don’t have to go back out there.
She touched my arm and I must have looked surprised because she quickly pulled it away.  Hey, I said and she waited for me to continue but I just shook my head.  Nothing.  I went into the living room and pulled the gloves off, stuck them in my coat pockets, then removed my coat and hung it in the closet.

The sky in winter looks stark and beautiful.  The sky in winter pretending to be something it’s not and when I walk outside the wind is full of teeth and it keeps biting at my hands and feet.  The wind tearing at the places on my body I’ve left exposed for too long.  I keep putting on more and more layers trying to keep myself protected but I, still, feel cold.  I’m convinced, one day, the wind will eat me up completely until nothing remains.  The sky in winter soft and wavering.  I feel like all I want to do is sleep.

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James Babbs continues to live and write from the same small Illinois town where he grew up. James has published hundreds of poems over the past thirty years, both in print and online. He is the author of Disturbing The Light(2013) & The Weight of Invisible Things(2013).

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