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By James Prenatt

In winter I think of my father sitting on the back porch. Early morning, a cup of black coffee in his hand, after shoveling the sidewalk of snow. He was content with the quiet as he watched a red cardinal land on a pine tree. I remember the early red and pink sunsets, the wilting willow branches above a frozen pond and the cattle huddled together for warmth.

In winter I think of the longest night. Of making love to my newlywed wife. I think of how dark the days seemed when we first met. The black ring around my finger, its weight and the mark it leaves as I twist it back and forth.

In winter I think of this unborn child. Can they hear me? What do they feel? I hope they know how happy I am with their mother, that they sense it somehow. I think of staying beneath the sheets as the snow piles high and the streets grow quiet. We eat. We touch. I am hers. We have so many names for each other.

In winter I ran barefoot with my sister and we laid down, played dead just to scare our parents. Birdseed littered the porch and the dogs stayed inside. We sledded down the tallest hill with the whole family there. I sat on my father’s lap and he laughed like a child—the way I was supposed to laugh. I watched a calf lay dead, its tongue lolled out as it bled. It wasn’t playing.

In winter I watch this child take pleasure in things that seem so normal, so unspecial, so silly. He reminds me I don’t always have to act grown up. We can yell down the hill just to hear our echoes. We can roll in the leaves. We can do things that don’t cost anything. We can stick our tongues out and hope snow hits. We can put sticks on our heads and call them antlers. We can be monsters.

In winter I can wake early to watch the trees and the birds and to shovel snow as I wait for my children to wake up. As I tell them not to wake their mother up. I can kiss this child still growing in my love’s body and hope it knows why, what I am doing, what it means. I can tell them it’s okay to cry. Are they scared? I can soothe these chapped lips. I can feed this hungry belly. In winter I think of cloves in oranges and the fireside where I could cry, how I just wanted everyone to be nice to each other. How I wish I had more time to go back and tell my family how I felt. How I hope this family I raise now will get a chance to know me, a better me. A stable me. How it’s okay to be cold and I will always keep them warm.

James Prenatt lives in Baltimore, MD with his beloved wife and stepson, who tells lovely stories about bunnies and crabs. He writes fiction and poetry along with contributing to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee.


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