What we do we do as scientists: take/give back, take/give back until everything has wound its way through us. Cut out negative space. Tie flags around the birds. It's simple, habitation, as long as you keep your finger on the dial. Sensitive as a nipple. In the cold, everything is harder to know.
Which is why we venture out, day after day.
Why the shadows know which way to run.
In every direction miniatures of our bodies poke out from the snow. We placed them there. Aspiring Edvard Munches.
You call this entertainment? We call it keeping track.
I long to see a lemonade stand setting up at the crossroads. Hell, I long to see a crossroads. Children waving a hand-painted sign in the hope that—
It has no substance yet.
I would be cruel to wish this place on children. I wish for it anyway. The landform is a lesson in blindness, in the fact that the stars and snow and wind know nothing of you, except that you block their way.
Then fly the kids back. Television. Peanuts. Jet fuel leaking into the burners. Their milk-white minds searing the bone-white sky.
And Hank and I, unbeknownst to all, hanging on to the landing gear as it pulls up.
Scan the snow for objects of love and wonder. Boil seal meat, stirring with both arms. Keep the bed unmade so it cannot be forgotten that each day is a new day under the ever-rising sun: God forbid the sheets keep their creases. God forbid an inch of sanitation tiptoe in. Wrestle your urges to the ground and gut them. The snow outside the front door turns a merciful red.
The only way to get to the Dark Sector is to trudge. Titanium fills your cheeks. Formlessness tackles you and rubs snow in your eyes until you are blind and you can see her. The earth's pages turn. The dim promise of a new year lingers on the horizon but you'd rather someone cut a hole in the sun and fished you out, fed you to their family of five, and loved you for what you are, a mass of mostly bone. What flesh you have you owe to the winter. Your shape is the shape of stone. Your smile is someone else's whim. Your trust is back with Hank. He hovers above it, crouched as if over a grenade. The living room lifts him up with its luminescent fingers and plucks his ribs out, one by one. My hands are shaking at the thought of him bent there. You think the cold is cold. Emptiness is only a beginning. Emptiness is a simple, ready receptacle.
Dennis James Sweeney's poems, fiction, and essays appear or are forthcoming in The &Now Awards: The Best Innovative Writing, Bellevue Literary Review, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, Juked, and Unstuck, among others. He is the author of What They Took Away, winner of the 2013 CutBank Chapbook Contest. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.