My polar vortex: definitions of power

The winter wonderland outside my window.
The winter wonderland outside my window.

The wind doesn’t whistle around the eaves, during a rust belt blizzard. It roars. I lay awake in bed last night, tree branches frantically scraping my windows as if to say, “It’s too cold out here. Let us in.” I prayed the house wouldn’t relent to gusts of wind that made me dream of freight trains barreling down Bethlehem Steel bridges, of sequined hips grinding against denim-clad crotches, of baby fingers clasping grit-rimmed fingernails, of other power dynamics we exist between, within.

Snow is soft, in reasonable measures, but formidable after a point. Working in ski country, I know this. I can stare out my office window, most days, and see the snow floating down in flakes the size of silver dollars, of teardrops, and gauge whether I will have to scrape or shovel off my car in the evening, or whether slamming each car door in turn will make it shudder off, defeated. I’ve crept along snow-choked roadways to and from the newsroom many times this winter, already, squinting through a windshield no amount of wiping can clear, my eyes laser-focused on the dimming taillights ahead of me as my only guide through the wilderness snow has rendered incomprehensible.

Today, a blizzard has kept me home from work for the first time in my adult memory. Working from my couch in front of the fire, I think of how something as tiny as a snowflake can cripple cities, in appropriate numbers. I think about how we assign power, how physical size or independent strength has so little to do with it.

My boyfriend’s brother’s wife had a baby, a month or so ago. She’s a tiny thing, her fingers the width of my laptop power cord, her eyelashes barely imaginary. But she has the strength to bring her tall, pillar father to his knees. I have seen gentleness on his face when he holds her the Madonna would have envied, seen him cradle her in such a way that defines safety. This is what power means: the ability to make a man into a father, a woman into mom.

I have seen women do it too, a different way. Look at the faces at a strip club, at any club, for that matter. When women, girls, chicks walk by, their hips drawing invisible circles in the air, faces drip wax into their drinks, slacking with the movement nature tells us means desire. A flip of careful-curled hair over a calculated shoulder can draw a man’s pocket to it like a fishing line is drawn between them. I’ve seen it. You have, too. Men can play the game, make no mistake. A  button low enough to reveal just a hint of hair. Hinting more. A lowered gaze beneath brows that say, “Will we?”

Sex is power. Watch TV sometime and tell me every commercial, most of what’s in between, doesn’t ooze sex, from yogurt to cars to puppy food. It’s all about what stirs our loins, and that’s an invisible force, the smallest and largest of them all. The strongest.

And so, I sit and watch the snowflakes capture my world, thinking about all the things that hold us. The forces that bind us without permission, or with it, or beside it, when we’re not looking or not looking hard enough.

And how sometimes, surrender is the sweetest strength of all.



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