“Winter Nihilism,” by Tom Luhrmann

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Winter Nihilism,” by Tom Luhrmann, appeared in the Spring 1982 issue of MQR.


In the winter months of jogging
only three things stood out boldly
in relief:
a pale blue tugboat
emerging slowly from the fog;
an empty school bus standing opposite Grant’s Tomb;
and a small, private garden
between the railroad yard and a rotting pier
in which there were some gardening tools,
an American flag,
and bricks that had been painted white.

I wondered what they meant.
Then you, who had not seen them,
received the following, unsigned note:

“The tugboat and the school bus
are objects of transitory wonder.
They will tell you nothing more about your destiny
than the letters you found,
written by a child on the dust of a window pane,
in the summer house you rented in Vermont.

“The objects in the garden, though,
are of a different order.
Remember them.
The white bricks will sustain you
when everything else seems meaningless;
the gardening tools will take you further
than any ideology;
the flag will stand between you and despair.”

Maybe I’ve been obtuse.

Maybe I should turn whole-heartedly to the world outside.

The sky is clear, the temperature has risen;
that tire, floating on the river,
might be the real first sign of spring.


Image: McCartney, Paula. “Winter Bluebirds.” 2005. Chromogenic print. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

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