Baby, it’s cold outside. Well… no, not really. It’s the middle of summer where I am, actually. And since it’s so hot out, I thought I’d take a moment to cool off a bit with some ice and snow. I came across this recently when de-cluttering a closet.
It’s an “epic romantic poem” (in other words, it’s the longest poem I’ve ever written — not the best, just the longest…). I wrote it in 1994. It was based on a dream I had and started out quite short. But after I shared it with a friend of mine at work, she had wanted to know “What happens next?!” So I added on… and on… and on. Et, voila!
Encounter in a Snowstorm
The snow had been falling all morning,
Drifting against the curbs and doorways in frozen, fluffy piles.
Her fingers, like icicles, were tucked away in thin grey gloves
As she scurried across the city streets, breathing the crisp air,
Against the flurry of persistent New Yorkers
Rushing intently to work.
Snowflakes tested her vision, dripping from her eyelashes,
And she turned her back against the wind, only for a moment
… Long enough…
Looking up to see his smile for the first time.
She spoke, startling herself — her words breaking through the icy air,
“I thought the sun wouldn’t be out today.” Her cold, pink cheeks disguised
The natural blush that followed; he smiled again,
And she turned back toward the wind, but he grabbed her arm,
Pulling her toward him, not letting her slip away into the winter season —
And asked her to join him for a cup of coffee at the end of the block.
They talked about the sudden change in the weather
… For a while…
And decided not to go to work until the storm let up.
So the conversation turned to subtle, romantic words that made her
Heart skip beats, like a school girl’s.
He told her what he did for a living, his middle name and birthday;
She studied each word like a favorite subject
She would be tested on later.
His smile and laughter intoxicated her like a warm drink.
It was all she could do to keep from reaching across the table
To bridge its distance between them — feel him near her —
Experience him intimately, not as untouchable artwork
… In which…
Angles of him reminded her of another she had known.
But the light of his eyes was his alone — for her alone —
And the way they looked into hers carried a message
She’d never heard before.
Moments of silence passed longingly between them
Like Valentine cards,
Both feeling more than they could say at a first meeting;
Translating glances into unspoken words they both understood
… But the check came…
And they both knew a decision had to be made.
He ordered a chocolate cheesecake to go — to give them more time —
And slowly helped her with her coat,
Taking the fresh white carnation from the vase on their table.
He held it out to her, asking her to take it —
Not sure, himself, what it would mean for them.
The cheesecake arrived; it was time to go. She searched his eyes
For the promises of love she hoped to find there, and took the flower
That his hand was warm and trembling,
So she held it a while as they waited by the door
Watching the snow fall against the window,
Both wishing the weather wasn’t so bad.
It was then that he took a chance, putting his arms around her,
To hold her before they left in separate directions,
Afraid she might disappear after all. It was more than he was willing to face,
So he left her there at the café. Not looking back — and without a word.
… She followed…
Stunned, watching him cross the snowy streets
As the lights flickered and changed. She couldn’t believe
What he had done; what she must have done wrong;
That his eyes had lied to her with the offerings of a warm winter.
He fled toward his office building — the one he’d told her about
With the castle-like spires reaching skyward.
She traced his steps — from a distance,
then up close — to his office,
Approaching him at his desk,
intentionally silent; surprising him.
She held out a numbed hand,
wishing he would take it —
… Leaving the carnation behind…
And he didn’t even attempt to call after her when she backed away, unnerved.
He just stared vacantly at her image as she retreated to the elevator
Pressing the “DOWN” button
And the doors closed before her; her eyes lowered.
When she was gone, he searched for her on the streets below
From his window and saw that she had looked up
As though she could see him up that high.
But she couldn’t… and…
… He had made his choice.
Later, when she had returned to the comfort of her small apartment —
Not having gone to work after all —
She could think more clearly
About the charming man with whom she’d shared coffee.
But an uncomfortable guilt overcame her. After all,
His actions weren’t as charming as he had led her to believe.
“How easy it is to believe in something and someone so unknown,”
She thought now. “And how heartbreaking.”
She withheld tears…
That threatened to invade her cozy home
And felt ridiculous for diving into emotions so quickly,
Allowing a stranger to make such an impression on her in the first place.
She would take a long, hot bath, shake off the feeling of the day —
And his touch —
And go to bed early tonight.
In the morning, she would return to work, business as usual,
And not look up at anyone — even if the sun was out.
… So the evening faded…
Into morning, and she rejoined the busy streets again,
Frozen fingers in her gloves.
She had even left home early today… and had extra time.
It would only take a moment to get a cup of coffee at the café —
And she was so cold. Besides,
He had never passed her by on the street before.
She was sure she’d never see him again.
So she entered through the café’s heavy glass door and sat at a table…
Thinking about how small the tables actually were,
And how far across she had felt she needed to reach yesterday
In order to touch him.
She hadn’t quite reached far enough, she considered now,
Caressing the white carnation in the vase before her,
Examining its browning edges,
When the brutal wind outside blew the door open,
Throwing a chilling draft across the room at her.
She looked up.
…He was there,
Standing at the counter purchasing blueberry muffins;
Waiting for the clerk to ring up his order.
That’s when his eyes skirted the room and he saw her,
Smiling before he could tell himself not to.
She was confused and looked away,
Toward her hands, then out the window.
He deserved her resistance; they both knew he deserved it. But still…
She couldn’t believe how incredibly warm the room suddenly felt
As he walked toward her
… And whispered…
Something she’d thought she’d heard before; she knew she had.
“I’m sorry,” he had told her, taking the seat across from her
Without being asked.
“I know,” she replied, replacing the flower in the vase,
“But I’m not going through this with you again.
So you tell me now
If you’re staying.”
He was quiet for what seemed an eternity,
As if he had never learned to speak.
And then his words came,
She eyed him suspiciously, and searched his eyes for confirmation.
What she saw satisfied her as he placed a blueberry muffin in front of her.
The waitress came to take her order and she smiled, “A vanilla latte, please.”
He smirked at her choice with approval, “I’ll have the same.”
She picked nervously at a blueberry
And popped it into her mouth.
Powdered sugar fell across her lap.
He laughed, the sound trickling through her like a welcome holiday,
… And she thought…
Although she wasn’t sure, that his eyes looked tired
As though he hadn’t slept very well the night before.
So she asked, and he admitted that he hadn’t stopped thinking about her
Since their encounter on the street.
“Then why?” she questioned, needing to hear his answer
Even though she was sure she already knew it.
And he told her he was scared and sorry. “Don’t be,” she told him,
Grabbing his hand across the table as the waitress came with their order
But neither one noticed, and it seemed that this would be another
Unproductive workday for both of them.
They didn’t mind.
Somehow it seemed more important to work out what was
Between them now.
So they drank their coffees, ate the muffins
And made plans for the weekend.
They both knew that if they could get through
The rest of the week together
… They could get through anything.
*It’s PPG Plaza in Pittsburgh, not NYC. 😉