By George M. Hosier II
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the arctic ride of Raul Pevere,
In middle of winter, of seventy-five;
How the man did ever survive
Is a secret we’ll never know, I fear.
He said to his wife, “I’m out of beer
So I’m making a run to the town to-night.”
Said his wife, “That’s madness this time of the year!
The thermometer glinting ‘neath Northern lights
Is pegged at sixty and five below!
You leave, and you’ll never come back, you know.
Drunk as you are, I bet my right arm,
You’re setting yourself up for ruin and harm.
Please stay by the fire with me where it’s warm.”
But he growled “Good-night!” and with teeth clenched tight
Lurched silently into the frost-laden night,
Just as the moon rose over his cache
Now starkly devoid of his alcohol stash.
But long winter nights make some men drink
And most drink more than they’d like to think.
Across the valley an all-night bar
Called Raul’s name like a siren’s song
And the cold bit deep and the wind howled strong
As he fumbled with keys to his car.
Meanwhile, his wife with slipper-shod feet
Rushes outside, propelled by her fears
And grabs for the keys, but her husband veers–
She slips in the snow and with heavy heart
Watches him climb in the driver’s seat!
But his triumph is hollow for it appears
Cars at these temperatures don’t like to start.
Then he burrowed frantic through hand-split birch
In the woodshed where he’d stored his sled.
He barked his knuckles and bonked his head,
And startled the ravens from their perch
On the black spruce rafters that o’er him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
With a trembling hand he dug and tossed
‘Til, to his relief, he came across
His snow machine, and he squealed with glee
At finding a method to guarantee
That the miles to town he now could cross.
His bad back spasmed; and made him shout,
As he seized the Snow-go by force of will,
Drug it to the top of the hill,
And pointed it toward the snow-choked rout
That led to booze-soaked happy hour
There to bask in Bacchus’ bower.
The watchful night wind seemed to whisper,
“The road is long; the cold grows crisper.”
Yet for only a moment he felt the dread
Of the lonely tundra that stretched ahead;
For suddenly all his thoughts converge
On a shadowy need–a poignant urge
To be blowing cash in a reckless splurge
On bosom pals he’d barely met
And whose love endured while their glass stayed wet.
Wheezing, impatient to mount and ride,
Mittened and booted with stumbling stride
To the starter cord handle Raul Pevere
All his tugging strength applied.
But the cold caused the brittle spring to shear.
Raul’s momentum flung him to earth,
Where all the weight of his ample girth
Contorted his ankle with a crunch
That nearly compelled him to toss his lunch.
Yet he rose again to pursue the fight,
Lonely and spectral and somber and white.
And lo! As he scans his homestead plot
A nicker, and then a quizzical trot!
He limps to the paddock, infused with hope
And after a chase, his mule he had caught
Assisted by a short length of rope.
A hurry of hoofs on the glacial lane,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the permafrost, icy shards arc,
Struck out by a saturnine steed with its mane
Frozen stiff–its ice-fogged breath forms a haze.
The mule and its rider press on in a daze
And the shards struck out by that steed formed a glaze
That still in June would mark the terrain.
It was twelve by the village clock
When they crossed the bridge just east of town.
The mule moved in a shuffling walk
And the barking of a husky dog
Failed to pierce their mental fog,
For their bodies’ cores were shutting down.
It was one by the village clock,
When a patron at the craved saloon
Noticed them like a frosty rock
Standing stiff in the parking lot.
And Raul’s fingers clenching the frozen reins
Were hard as links of an iron chain.
His beard was set with freeze-dried snot,
And it glittered in the light of the moon.
It was two by the paramedic’s watch
When they got Pevere pried from off his mule.
His feeble bleating for a fifth of Scotch
Brought the toughest EMT’s to tears,
But they could smell he’d had too many beers.
They gently eased the fragile fool
Out of his saddle and into a bed,
Taking great care not to let him fall,
Lest he shatter a limb or head.
Then gave his wife an urgent call.
You guessed the rest. In the books you have read
How drinking in winter can make you dead,–
How what you sow at 40 below
You’ll reap in spades among the snow.
Harmless stunts where palm trees thrive,
Are death traps when Jack Frost arrives.
Raul’s survival was not due to smarts,
And now he’s missing some body parts.
In the cold and the dark, I hope you will heed,
I pray you will waken and listen to hear
The staggering hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight folly of Raul Pevere.