Poem for January

My copy of The Waste Land from my modern lit class at Mizzou.

(An homage to the St. Louis poet who became a Brit and also to Lou Rawls)


January is the cruelest month.

Where did T.S. Eliot get that April business?

January is the cruelest month, breeding

Black ice boulders out of the dead streets, mixing

Memory and desire, the memory of light,

The longing for sun, at least more of it every day.


January is the cruelest month, building

Slippy slides on the sidewalks, lurking

In wait for me to land flat

On my butt, if I’m lucky.

January is cruel, refusing

To share its light with those who wake in the dark

And work through the rare hours of sunshine.

Assuming there is any anyway.


Sometimes winter keeps us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life for spring.

What branches grow

Out of this icy rubbish? We do know

There is life to come under this ugly blackness.

I will show you how winter can be beautiful

If only the ice would melt

And we could walk happily again

On dry sidewalks, even if the temp is single digits

With a wind chill below zero.

While the Hawk blows off the lake, sending

Me on to a dead end street

Where there is nothing to stop the wind.

So they put ropes on some of the buildings to help

Us get around the corners.


January is still the cruelest month.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

Had a bad cold because she didn’t get a flu shot

Despite being the wisest woman in the Midwest.

Here, said she, is your card. The frozen Phoenician sailor

Who should have known better than to go out without

Boots, hat, earmuffs, mittens and down.

Those are shells that were his ears. Look!

Now frozen to pink marble.

Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks.

I could have told her not to swim off the rocks

At Addison, when chunks of ice cover

What was once and will be again

Our beautiful blue lake.


January is the cruelest month, even if, as I,

You love winter.

Just not quite as much of it.



T.S.Eliot, The Waste Land And Other Poems, (1930, Harcourt Brace and Company, Inc.)

Lou Rawls, “Dead End Street Monolog” from Lou Rawls at the Century Plaza (Live) (1973)

And Mr. Justice (I think), my senior year English professor at the University of Missouri, who taught me to love modern poetry and especially, T.S. Eliot. 


One Comment on “Poem for January”

  1. Melinda Power says:

    I love this adaptation.


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