Our building floated heavily through the cold
On shifts of steam the raging coal-fed furnace
Forced from the boiler’s hull. In showers of spark
The trolleys flashed careening under our cornice.
My mother Mary Beamish who came from Cork
Held me to see the snowfall out the window —
Windhold she sometimes said, as if in Irish
It held wind out, or showed us that wind was old.
Wind-hole in Anglo-Saxon: faces like brick,
They worshiped Eastre’s rabbit, and mistletoe
That was Thor’s jissom where thunder struck the oak.
We took their language in our mouth and chewed
(Some of the consonants drove us nearly crazy
Because we were Chinese — or was that just the food
My father brought from our restaurant downstairs?)
In the fells, by the falls, the Old Ghetto or New Jersey,
Little Havana or Little Russia — I forget,
Because the baby wasn’t me, the way
These words are not. Whoever she was teaching to talk,
Snow she said, Snow, and you opened your small brown fist
And closed it and opened again to hold the reflection
Of torches and faces inside the window glass
And through it, a cold black sheen of shapes and fires
Shaking, kitchen lights, flakes that crissed and crossed
Other lights in lush diagonals, the snowcharmed traffic
Surging and pausing — red, green, white, the motion
Of motes and torches that at her word you reached
Out for, where you were, it was you, that bright confusion.
Robert Pinsky’s most recent book is Poetry and the World (The Ecco Press). His fourth poetry collection, The Want Bone, will be published by Ecco next year. (1989)