“Winter is icummen in, / Lhude sing Goddamn,” sang the irascible Ezra Pound, and while, as far as I know, he never had to ride local Tri-Met’s Line 15, he seems to have had some experience with public transportation, for he continues, in his poem “Ancient Music”: “Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us, / An ague hath my ham. / Freezeth river, turneth liver, / Damn you, sing: Goddamm.”
The bus in winter when full is still a hungry beast galumphing to the curb at every stop to pick up riders in galoshes. The riders squeeze aboard like polyps into the beast’s belly, back-packed and wool-hatted, jacketed wet and sinewy, noses running out of the cold and into the heat, leaky faucets leaking pus, umbrellas furling and unfurling, colorful flags popping the beast’s flatulence as it pulls up to the curb and politely lowers its door.
I climb aboard and peristaltic pressure pushes me all the way to the back of the bus where I stick to the back wall, a fresh polyp, and through the wall I hear the engine moaning in its uneasy sleep. The bus dreams it could be an 18 wheeler, no passengers, a single driver in a penthouse cab, rolling smoothly but solidly through serene mountain passes. I could sleep too, in the warmth of the beast’s belly, but I have to make a transfer, so I ring the bell and work my way up to the back door.
I get off the bus at Southeast 12th and Morrison. Winter seems worse here, and I unfurl my umbrella and wait at the intersection to cross, the wind and cold rain lapping at my legs. Off the bus though I’m feeling better about winter. I get on my next bus for the short ride up 12th to Benson High School. I hop off amid students breaking for lunch, a few with cell phones on hold as they hail the bus to wait, others crisscrossing the lawn at random like snowflakes. I cross NE Irving, once again longing for the old Sweet Tibbie Dunbar’s, where the juicy prime rib with roasted potatoes, soup, and a Christmas ale surely cured whatever ailed as winter might have been coming in.
You’re alive, and there’s no cure for it, Kafka said. Ah, yes, but there is a cure, ancient music, but go not as Pound “’gainst the winter’s balm,” but let the cold wind up your legs, around your waist, and wrap your soul in cold, for it’s then you’ll feel liveliest.