Impossible Things Before Breakfast

This morning,

woke me long before sunrise, and took me through the rime and the wind and the squeaking, whispering, whimpering snow, to see the angels.

He drove me to the Lakeview Cemetery, to see the bent marble heads covered in snow and blue light, to see the mausoleums in morning shadow, to see the obelisks against the sky. There is a woman there all in stone, staring straight ahead, her hair long and perfect in chiseled curls. There are dozens. There is snow on her cheeks. There is snow on all their cheeks. There is a boy and a girl curled up into each other in red rock, and a great fat industrialist greeting the dawn with an outstretched granite hand, empty after a century. There are Christs, endless sacrificed gods, toting their eternal crosses. There are angels with icicles hanging from their wings. All these stone folk living day after day in that place, in those low hills, watching sunrises I have never seen, telling secrets to the moon with grave, solemn tongues. He told me a fairy tale about a very clever wolf in the middle of all the frozen ivy and wind-blasted eyes and we drank warm pumpkiny coffee in the cold.

I want to go back immediately. I want to name them all. I want to know them. I want my camera.

I dropped him off at work, and I drove down to take a peek at the lake a few blocks away. I like Lake Erie, it’s like a big blue beastie curled up on top of Ohio that I can visit and whose ears I can occasionally scratch. Also it will eat you whole if you’re not careful, and has a bellyful of dead ships and cold bones under the pretty little waves, and I like that, too.

It froze.

I was told the lake froze in the winter, but I didn’t really believe it. That something that big could freeze. I’m still a west coast girl at heart, I see through California eyes–I go barefoot all the time because, really, what could happen? (Answer: squeaky snow can happen.) Winter doesn’t mean much in the golden, fertile San Joaquin. At least comparatively. Lakes the size of inland seas don’t freeze. Come on. That just doesn’t happen.

It froze.

The foam and the waves froze into torn, shredded white lace against the rocks, and I could see in the distance rims of white cascading out to forever, to an impossible Canada that I have heard exists over on the other side of the lake. Pockets of still, deep, amazingly blue water opened up far off the shore, holes in the ice, and the wind–the wind itself froze! The ice was blown up into tiny peaks, whorling patterns where the water blew east and east until the cold stopped it. Everything is still and white and silent, except for the slow creak of slabs of ice, and the slow creak of the snow underfoot. The sun glitters on everything, hard and cold and unforgiving, flashing on the tips of frigid waters. It looks like the end of the world. It looks like forever. I have never seen anything so beautiful, so humbling, so wild and terrible in the middle of a city, and even looking right at it I can hardly believe in it.

There is no Canada on the other side of that lake. That I’m sure of. On the otherside of that frozen, radiant, growling sea is straight-up Fairyland, and best you believe it. The kind you don’t come back from. The kind that makes you dance and dance on the checkered, icy, blue-white dancefloor that Erie has become until your toes freeze to glass and your hair goes white.

How can this be, how can this other city of frozen lakes and angels and glowering, hoary cathedrals exist within the iron and fire and rust of the first Cleveland? Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough!

Perhaps I came here to learn about winter. Perhaps I came here to meet Erie. But this morning the world is so cold and perfect, so cold and perfect it is not possible that it really exists.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk

Between me and the crying of the frogs?

Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,

That am a timid woman, on her way

From one house to another!


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