Warning: This column contains poetry. Anyone disturbed by poetry in a newspaper should move along to the inside of this section, where you are sure to find spectacular car crashes and criminal mayhem.
Alert: This column will also issue a call for poetry, and offer valuable prizes.
I don't normally go much for poetry, but I was drawn to it by news stories over that past few weeks that suggested a topic both beautiful and horrifying, a theme that is uniquely "of place," but which also suggests a struggle so epic that it is universal.
I am talking, of course, about ice dams.
Minnesota, apparently, is sick with ice dams. They are everywhere, perched on roof lines like crouching tigers, waiting to drop on passersby, taunting us as though to say: Come up and get me.
And we did, at our peril.
As one story said: "In the metro area, where a record number of ice dams were giving homeowners fits, warnings were issued about the dangers of climbing onto ladders and roofs."
But we didn't listen, did we, jazz trombonist David Graf?
No, no we didn't. All the roof rakes were sold out, so Graf put a ladder from his deck to his roof, and began to knock snow down with a shovel. Unfortunately, the deck was lightly frosted, and the ladder slid out from under him. Graf broke his pelvis and an arm.
"Wish I could have a do-over," he said.
Across the metro, people staged similar heroic battles. It may just be anecdotal, but the creative class was hit especially hard. Minnesota Public Radio's Gary Eichten was double teamed. "The ice man cometh," said Eichten. "Twice."
In St. Paul, there were reports of water intrusions and even an ice dam removal with heat that ended in a fire. That story brought Robert Frost to mind:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Jeff Johnson, Minneapolis writer, essayist and poet, asked for help with his ice dam problem on Facebook, and Minnesotans offered up more cockamamie recipes than a gaggle of church ladies: Steam it. Throw hockey pucks of melting chemicals on it. Salt it. Perhaps the best was a suggestion to fill pantyhose with calcium chloride and throw then up on the roof perpendicular to the gutters.
Finally, Johnson turned to the pros, who wanted $300 an hour to clear his roof.
"I was tempted to ask them if they were hiring lawyers to do the work," Johnson said.
The steamers finally got to work on Friday, at considerable cost. I am an art patron, so I commissioned Johnson to write some iconic Minnesota ice dam poetry for me. I will buy him lunch, which is more than poets usually get. Here is his work:
You wouldn't think ice could form
on a house that's under water,
but there's enough of it on my eaves
to chill drinks for all the investment bankers
on Wall Street, with enough left over
to refresh the packing around their hearts.
And again: (with apologies to Emily Dickinson's "Hope is the thing with feathers.")
Ice is the thing with menace
that perches on the eaves
and gives the trembling householder
an awful case of heaves;
and hangs there growing thicker
with each succeeding storm
until the home itself has lost
all semblance of its form.
And when at length the melting comes,
the moist, sad plenitude,
the ice, departing, breathes, "You should
have insulated, dude."
That's tough to beat, but it's your turn. Melt your metaphorical ice dam with the heat of your words. Johnson will judge and the winner will get a prize we haven't chosen yet. Send your entry to me at the e-mail address below, or drop it in the mail pronto to my attention, 425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
We prefer winters, and poems, that are short.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-1702