A Cold Winter Walk

by Dr. Agonson

Everything is frozen this winter, and as I walk through these ruins, among the forgotten carvings of this dead people’s deities—forgotten by all—I wonder at their visage. Such viscous snarls, such cool contempt, what a mockery is this rockery. Set up on high to look down upon those thronging the streets as if to say, “Fear, the gods are watching, fear.” But who walks these streets now? Who is afraid of you?

The cool crisp air does battle with my lungs as if it finds my irreverent chuckles no laughing matter. No matter, it is not the wind that will kill me. I turn a corner and find one of the gods bowing to me; oh how many centuries have you lain prostrate, oh how long have you been waiting to bow to me? Get up, get up if you can.

I wander on, but ask, “Who can help up this god?”

It is a day that freezes every sound immemorial upon one’s innermost and even now my first steps down this path ring clear in my heart weighing my mind down. I hear my yester-steps playing disjunct. Hark, where I stood still before the prostrate god, hark earlier, as I turned from a dead end. Hark my steeps now and hark I hear them as they go before me; there is soon to be a dead end. Onward, onward, onward I plod through the snow. Will it ever be summer? I seem to remember only winter—only years and years of winter.

Looking upward to the unkind deities I shout, “What? Do you judge me?  I am a man, would a stone judge a man?”

Lightly little flakes fall as a shadow overcomes the sky. How thick the air has become. I watch my breath, heavy though it is, rise like the smoke of some offering to heaven. Threescore and ten, upon this I dwell. More days, yes. More years, maybe.

I see how sudden it has grown dark, how intense the cold is, and how alone a man is with his footsteps going before him. The stones, though they will not breath, will be here tomorrow and a year and a decade and even more hereafter than I. Up goes my breath, little white dissipating puffs fighting through the torrents of ice racing down.

Even now the darkness covers those objecting faces, and the snow becomes a curtain covering those frozen snarls. See, the gods hide their faces from me, for I have seen their shame. I am alive, and they will never be, so they hide from my face and cannot meet my heated glare.

Through these little-trodden streets the wind twists and turns screaming in fury. Yet, my ears, burning in this winter, hear a contemptuous roar of laughter as a wall of snow and ice and terrible wind crash my frail frame onto the deadly cold bed of snow beneath me. How beautiful is the sky shedding her frozen tears over me? Would she now bury me till winter was over, that I might sprout like a sapling? That I might awake to warmth and light? That I might reach, and reach with all I had to heaven till I was a mighty tree casting my shadow miles and miles behind me?

I can’t get up and I hear the laughter of those unliving undying faces mixing with the twisting wind into some horrible orchestral triumph, the grand ending of a song.

Though a man may walk
Though he may breathe
His paths are rocky hills
He struggles for each breath

I shout:

Though I may die
Yet I lived
though there was pain
even so was pleasure

And they rejoin:

Better to be stone
unfeeling and immortal
then freezing flesh
surrounding brittle bone

And then I remember:

So, my breath,
you see I fight for it in pain
and how for all that
it floats away from me

Yet still, I know,
it is not vanity
what is spent well
There is some profit!

But their cold retort is quick:

You fed the hungry
but what profit?
Tomorrow and forever
flesh will hunger again

You spoke well
and made the truth plain
but no one will hear
no one will take it to heart

Oh how cruel they were to mock me:

You, oh man, will die
as all men will die
No one will remember
no one will care.

I cried to heaven, “Can no one answer these stones? Is there no judgment? Will righteousness not rule?” Oh how warm my icy blanket grows. Even now I start to stop all struggle as I have not the strength to answer these hard faces or even, it seems, to manage the slightest shiver. Oh how warm, oh how immeasurably comfortable is this cold end.

With nothing more than a whisper:

This throne is old
This gold tarnished
This fight is long
This breath my last

Here now I lie
to rise no more
Here now I die
and breath no more

I exit the decrepit stool
my post is over
the work complete
the gold’s under my feet

And in the lonely company of those disquieting stones an old man died. Their expressions did not change, and remained as cold and heartless as before. Yet, no one cares about stones or statues which are weathered and shortly perish. Indeed, they come and go so quickly it is hard to know they were there.

But this is remembered, a kind deed done to the least of these, and his breath went to heaven.

 

Listen to my beautiful voice:

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