To My Wife

By Peter Halstead

What makes a wood at night
So much like a living room
Where kindling stands straight
Up on the hearth, the growing gloom

And strangeness cast aside by light,
By logs, by the rising moon
Which, climbing fast between the bright,
Leafless trees of fall will soon

Infuse the room with frozen foam
And transform our forest into home.

Thanksgiving, 1985

March 5th, 2019


Just before Thanksgiving, walking back through the woods in the moonlight, I stopped and watched the quiet of the night settle in as the moon rose over the large boulder up on the ridge, lighting up the woods, making every tree a birch.
How marvelous, I thought, to feel so comfortable in this potentially cold and hostile environment, alone in the dark beyond the lights of civilization and yet so close to a warm fire, just before the snow. How many of my acquaintances would take the same pleasure from a moment like this? And how lucky was I to have a wife who encouraged such moments?
Further, I thought, what makes the woods so comfortable? I turned around to look behind me up at the high ridge. Much more threatening. No moon, no light. The trees had no silhouette. It was the moon that lit and lightened the woods, that made them comfortable. Why? Because the moon defined the trees, in both senses.
As Cathy gives me definition, I thought. And with that one line in mind, I decided to see what the rest of it might look like, hoping it might convey the comfort and desolation, the structure and freedom of the moment, equating marriage with a wood and wives with moons, those vast tidal pulls, with a fireplace thrown in because hearths somehow evoke the homeliness of Thanksgiving in those early Pilgrim cabins, spilling over with gourds, pumpkins, and late corn. Hearths seemed the midpoint, the metaphor, between trees and people, woods and loves, the anchor of the house, the bricks and mortar of the heart.
Often, I have made notes for a poem or even begun it, returning later to find the particular chemistry of invention gone, leaving only technique and resulting in a very different poem. Some feelings lurk beneath the skin, below the words, some marvelous fears or mortalities that egg the process on and then disappear in a cloud of dust like Butch Cassidy. "Who are those guys?" I ask myself, but I never find out what epileptic spasm dictates form and then leaves, commissions Mozart's Requiem and never picks it up.
A friend of mine had been touting my simpler poems (at the expense of the metaphysical ones). Although advice always inches me in the opposite direction, the poems I most admire are in fact simple on the surface: Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Merrill's "Nightgown," and "The Fisherman" by Yeats (whose tagline he cribbed from his brother, Jack).

Thanksgiving, 1985

Rue de Varenne
Easter, 2005

Tippet Alley
November 7th, 2008