Midwinter Hand

I withdraw, I withdraw,
feet point forward but move back -
slow toes first, last heels,
and the coat, and another, wrapped around,
bulky shoulders foil both straps
and cold
but the light ahead recedes 
as eyes turn in and ears hear
no more sound,
how the hands are numb, and old, worn finger
rings don't fit they
drop to the ground, gold fire
made cold by nests of snow.
Well, let the wind blow, 
my skin so thick now, can't hurt,
for my part is to look toward the light
and feel my feet turn back,
slow toes first, last heels,
and people on the road
reeled and sloped like drunken fences,
fell gradually away.  Such rotten wood
gives no protection
against plains stretching empty, wide and long,
wind whispering at stone,
snow dusting chills against the face
and now over the horizon 
water comes, it won't be long,
and so I make my stand,
stop the pace here that rendered me
empty, cold, but wise
with no words left to pledge.
The last flakes fade, give way
to rain.  And so the mouth deals
silence, and silent are the eyes,
all sights seen, all action
compromised, the heart so dry
it cannot flinch at pain.
Standing in this edging storm
rain begins to pelt 
a water sluice strengthening
that sweetens and replenishes
drouth long borne.
Oh but I am sworn not to baulk
and all this water cannot rinse the heart of dust
or cleanse a toughened skin,
so I cannot falter now
at this last test of soul,
this Midwinter trial
is merely skirmish on the road
and in my hand I hold 
all the tools I need to keep me whole.
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