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Palmer Square: Winter

I forgot to tell you this. One time, desperate to get out of the apartment and feeling cooped up, I decided to go for a walk through Palmer Square on a moonlit night in February. Cold, cold, cold. With the wind sweeping up from the south over new-fallen snow and the moon blinking through wisps of Minnesota-born clouds.

But then, I’m always talking about the cold. And there I go again. Forgive me! It always feels worth describing. The bone-chilling winds, the sounds of the L rising above the treetops. The madness of the metal on metal exaggerated and echoing off the ice walls.


I walked south on Kimball Avenue and then east to Palmer Square, seven acres of snow atop a crust of ice and still as could be. Very still. Oaks and maples, tall and black against the snow and lit by the brand-new LED lights. One guy muffed up in a scarf walking his animal over the tundra. A cylinder of insulated fabrics, fur, a slit of eyes, and smoke from the cover over his mouth. His animal hopped gleefully in the drifts. I had been in a thoughtful, fearful mood. Something portentous in the winter. The old threats of extinguishment in anonymous circumstances.

I felt scared, a little nutty. Right on the edge of losing the old marbles.

I walked through the square, insane flâneur. Cracking and shooshing over the ice and the snow crust. I came to a bench and sat down. Not a soul in the park now, and the wind howling.

Sat on the bench and looked over and there was the ghost of my grandfather, smoking a cigarette in tennis clothes. Shorts and a yellow-stained collared shirt. Barefoot. I leaned back, and heaved into this unfolding scene with serene curiosity. Surprised to find I had gotten this comfortable around ideas of the dead. At last, someone who gets it, I thought. I didn’t know that it was possible to feel so at home with spirits. When did this happen? I smiled inwardly thinking, I did it! When do we unlearn our fear of the impossible and lean back into these situations merely because, for once, they are something new? Maybe my problem had been that I was bored.

Well? I asked him, shrugging. He pulled from his Parliament and looked at me.

I made it obvious and asked him for a drag.

He looked at me as if to say, as he used to, What are you nuts?

But then handed it over, and I inhaled, and passed the cigarette back to him.

I don’t know what other people think about when they imagine their inevitable encounters with ghosts. Mine, to be honest, was pretty blasé. It was just nice to sit there with him. The two of us smoking, and me shivering. Sitting on that bench with the snow swirling around us.

He sat there silently smoking and it wasn’t like I thought it would be—the gentle ghost revealing small and large truths in the snow. It wasn’t some kind of revelatory thing, only calming. He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask him any questions about pain or manliness, about strife or hope. He didn’t wear chains and he wasn’t moaning. All we did was sit there and be together. He didn’t look cold or uncomfortable. He only looked peaceful and I was happy to see that. Though I think the peace actually came from the fact that he looked just about as I remembered him.

I was a little annoyed at first that he didn’t give me any wise words.

Hey, why will you not be Virgil to my Dante? Why won’t you help lead me to something more than the sum total of what I already know? We can sit here silently for hours and I’ll listen. But my grandfather’s ghost just sat there, smoking.

A few hours later, I got up off the bench, noticing that I had gotten cold, and walked home.

Weird, huh?