Swing Set

By Peter Halstead

Winter evaporating into the spring sun

We look around us
at the balance
of the trashed
and sintered ruins
of despair and mud
for the footprints of the past
for any sign of winter’s
singing blast
in the surprising grime
the flesh and blood
of inhuman storms
like splinters rising
from the fractured
cinders of a starched
and sundered ground
from the howl
of pain inside
the devastating thunder
from seabirds blind
to the dying in the air
to the evaporated hours
steaming out from under
ruptured flowers
and substitutes
for countryside,
for buds and shoots
that override
that flout whatever rot
the weakened land can sprout
as the fruits and swing
of an astronomical divide
unite our frozen weekend
in the seesaw ride of spring.


In the clash of divided seasons that drives Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, the music tries to maintain its balance between cosmic oxymorons: between the exhilarating despair of Eliot’s cruel April lilacs and the fragile white blossoms which Müller’s poems sometimes reference, almost camouflaged against the melting snows of winter.

At this volatile time of year, we vacillate between the lauer Wind and the kalter Flocken. We live in the Wolkenfetzen, the chiaroscuro of the clouds, both catalepsy and bliss, the dichotomy of the Winter Ride, the light and dark which dapple through the fingers the way scales contain both the question and the answer.

Schubert’s winter ride is the give and take between opposites, the frost heave, the thaw and refreezing of the spirit. I saw one of his pieces, “Erstarrung,” or “Freezing,” in light of the coming of spring to the devastated land and people of Ukraine.

Adam Golka and John Moore were performing Winterreise in New York around this time, and it set me to thinking about it.