Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Gulag Mornings

Kelowna Winter

I woke and left the house in the dark
those winter mornings,
when I attended Mass before school.
The only sound was my feet
crunching through the frozen snow,
and the hum of electricity
through the hydro lines above.

One morning, the only person awake
in the universe, I heard Sputnik
crossing the heavens.

It was freezing, my breath making clouds.
My blue coat was thin, a castoff
from one of my grandma's friends.
I wrapped a woollen scarf over my head
and around my neck and looked,
a classmate sneered, "like a refugee."
I felt like a refugee, from human kindness,
for everywhere I went,
I found no comfort there.

The church was softly lit, and warm,
a sanctuary; the smell of incense and 
the murmured Latin words a note of constancy
in a world where I had not yet
found my place.

After Mass, I'd cross the icy field
to school, where I laughed too loudly,
played the fool, to hide the pain
of feeling not enough midst my secure,
white-bread companions, whose lives,
I imagined, held no terrors, whose nights,
no secrets, whose hearts, no wonderings
about where they belonged
in this endless Gulag winter landscape
I was crossing,
all alone.

for Sumana's prompt at Midweek Motif: to write a winter poem. Just as in early childhood, it was always summer, in my teens, it was always winter. So cold, in Kelowna, in those years when kids walked everywhere, and were not coddled.


  1. I know that empty-sky awareness that sub-zero pre-dawn skies provide. Starsong, audible.

  2. These word go straight to my heart especially "in this endless Gulag winter landscape I was crossing,all alone."
    Wish you all the sunshine in the world

  3. The poem--POW!--matches its title--with Sputnik and the Gulag in a young one holding together her being in the world. I felt the bullying, felt the sanctuary, flashed on some memories of the walk--but never so early, never so many contradictions. Wonderful poem, Sherry!

  4. I can hear the hum of the hydro wires, just like the hum of the voices of the kids in the schoolyard. And the laughing to fit in when all you want to do is cry. Tears are as a frozen as the landscape.

  5. I felt like I was walking in the crunching snow in the early morning hours. I could hear the taunts of children who have not yet learned how to walk in the shoes of compassion.


  6. Sadly those that have experienced such a childhood try to ensure their own children don't have it as well. However I think children should understand how to cope with misfortune should it happen and not expect life to be rosy all the time.

  7. Great title, Sherry! I’m the same: in early childhood, it was always summer, in my teens, it was always winter. And I remember clearly one winter when I was little, walking home from school and being snowballed by a bunch of older children; I arrived home blue with cold, but, as you say, I was not coddled, just given a mug of hot chocolate and wrapped up in a blanket until my colour returned.
    You really captured my memories in the lines:
    ‘The only sound was my feet
    crunching through the frozen snow,
    and the hum of electricity’.

  8. Oooooo,,,I am never going to complain about winter again.Love the mood you evoked in this poem...You made it through and now you can hibernate under in your big purple bed under a fur rug with hot chocolate and write lovely poems.Your life gave you endless material for your writing.Really enjoyed this one.

  9. Why is it that we often think that others are more confident, more poised than we are; that others suffer less than we do?

  10. I, too, always walked to and from school, even my high school which was a couple of miles away. Oddly, I have one vivid memory. Somebody's mom picked me up one cold morning and I rode in a car full of people with the radio playing Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" which was getting a fair amount of play at the time. Doo da doo do da doo doo

  11. Sherry,

    A magnificent insight to life in that snowy region of the world,where it stays with you for some time, unlike the thin coverings we generally experience.
    Your poem recounts a story, my mother often told me, about walking from her countryside childhood home, to attend mass in all weathers too. I rememember being in those countryside churches, with the scents of everything holy, while freezing cold!!
    Thank you for bringing me back to other times, in winter too:)


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