Cold Sleep

(Inspired by the photograph “Cold Storage” by Richard C. Isner,
included in the collections of The Mariners’ Museum.)

After hours, this gallery is silent as the snow
In Isner’s photograph of winter boats –
As your blue lips, your mustache stiff with frost.
You would have been my husband,
But you’re trapped, frozen in time, your young life sealed
Like this photograph, where snow last fell 50 years ago –
Where snow’s still falling, like the living breath
Caught in your cryonic chamber,
Suspended in crystals on lips that almost speak.

Within the picture’s glass, the snow still whispers,
Fat flakes building padded layers,
Protection against the freezing of my heart.
The snow that kills can keep one alive, warm in a hollow
Dug under a blizzard’s bank, snow-shielded from wind and cold,
Safe in trapped warmth like this hole where I hid you,
A freezer unit to shield a spark of life
From chill of death.
The brochures promised hibernation, not burial,
Your last moment locked forever in time,
Like these boats rocking alone in the water.

The day you left this world, it began to snow,
Cold, wet flakes, a thick, blanketing layer
That softened your staggering steps
To the car, where I wrapped you in afghans.
Our wheels skidded on slick streets,
The snow blurring the boundaries of lanes,
Slowing our pace and cushioning our bumpers
To soften any blow.
It was late. Clouds and streetlamps
Had hidden all the stars.
We swore to an eternity together, so I
Sealed you in a tomb built for sleep, not death.
But now I can’t find my way in
To dream beside you.

My heart is in cold storage. On visiting days,
I enter the private chamber where the only light glows within
These cases floating motionless in a sea of black,
Faces lit behind glass plates
While darkness shrouds metal canisters,
These sealed ships showing only the heads,
Solemn identities suspended in nothingness,
Shining like cold stars. I stand rigid, my knuckles white,
Watching your calm, quiet face
Adrift in your funeral barge,
Where you wait with bated breath
As my breath fogs the glass.
Then I wander, blind, into the gallery,
This exhibit full of photographs,
Still lifes that shield stilled lives.

I stumble to the bench beneath Isner’s boats,
My solace, the photograph you loved:
The one thing that grants me something of your peace.
This captured world’s so much like yours:
Snow fills the boats, your veins.
Both worlds are sealed by arcs –
One bound by anchor chains, the sweep of flakes,
The drooping brush of snow-laden boughs,
The slow curve of gray boats stark with snow –
In the other, silver bands of titanium arch around
Your icy, cylindrical prison in crisp, clear lines
As round as your wedding band, whose pristine platinum
Nestles in black velvet in my bureau drawer.
In Isner’s world, snow fogs the distant shore,
But there’s no fog inside the glass where nitrogen
Numbs the poison of your wounds –
Love in suspension,
The breath lodged in your throat like Snow White’s apple –
The promise of your glass prison much like hers,
Or Arthur’s marble tomb on Glastonbury Tor –
That here you slumber merely,
Airtight, no breeze, no breath – this hush so cold,
All sound stilled like Isner’s lake, covered in snow,
Where the wind whispers yet beyond the boundaries
To what I know.

You’re not awake, not alive. Not dead.
Frozen solid like fish trapped beneath ice –
Like these boats, their metal too cold to touch.
Time’s sealed behind glass. I dare not break the ice.
I captured you in the moment of death – Yours? Mine?
This cryonic stasis can’t cure either of us,
Halting both time’s destruction and power to heal.
The snow preserves, but does not promise life.
Your brow is clear of the years I carry now
From traveling forward while you slumber,
A numbed eternity,
Both you and the boats
Still new, still fresh with life.
If you dream, you might climb in and row away.
If I stare till my eyes sting,
I can see you rising from your bed
To step into a world where boats knock slowly,
Their hollow echo muffled by time, by snow. You dream,
Nestled in the softness piled low in seats, in boughs.
As long as I don’t try to wake you, I have hope.
The soft line of your cheek and jaw promises
Not death, just cold storage.
Sleep well.





adelegardnerbyadelegardnerWith a Master’s in English literature, Adele Gardner has twice won third place in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Her publications include a poetry collection (Dreaming of Days in Astophel) as well as 226 poems and 40 stories in venues such as Legends of the Pendragon, Strange Horizons, American Arts Quarterly, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. For additional information, visit: