Letter About Guilt from California to the Snow Country
by: Judith Minty
Last week, rain fell in a rage,
dragging its muddy hair over the hills.
Flood waters, rose, walls and roofs caved in,
redwoods rose, walls and roofs caved in,
redwoods slid and buried lovers in their beds.
Now this warm Monday, sun
spreads out in the pasture and I've peeled back
my clothes to the skin. A coyote
straggled from the manzanita grove and monarchs
dry their wings over the poppies.
Friend, halfway across the country, you suffer
a different climate. Where you are, firemen
wear coats of ice and water freezes
when it hits the burning building. On Lake Michigan
waves break in crystals against the churning boat.
--But I'm trying to speak of guilt, how I
stayed dry, how I'm stealing warmth
from the winter. I'm thinking about that cardinal
singing in your snow-covered pine tree.
--Santa Cruz, California
This poem is about guilt. About Judith Minty being in warm California winter while her friend is in the frozen north of Michigan. There's this deep sense of longing in the poem, as well. As if Minty craves the beauty of snow and ice. The cardinal in the pine tree.
Guilt is a sneaky emotion. If you let it creep into your mind, it can completely control you. Force you to make decisions that are inherently wrong-headed. Assuaging a guilty conscience is difficult. I think that's why confession is so important in the Catholic Church. It's a way of unburdening yourself to another person, and then that person says to you, "You're good. You're forgiven." It's a powerful thing to hear those words.
I'm not a theologian. I'm sort of an armchair philosopher, I suppose. I think poets, like Minty, point out these human conditions. They don't offer solutions to problems. They peel away the skin and let you see things like guilt fully, like a bright red bird in a snowy landscape.
Saint Marty's not feeling guilty today. He's feeling a little old, a little tired, and grateful it's the weekend.