Ode to Twenty Below



Oh sundogs, you ring the sun

with chilly arcs of ice crystals

dancing with mirth at our

bones shuddering with

thin blood not quite

ready for the sun’s

retreat from warmth.


Oh sundogs, our ancestors

chased you with drums

and shouts. Fire to the

sky, drive the freezing

sundogs back. Back!

Ice crystals circle

the once warm sun.


Oh sundogs you are dreadful

a harbinger of doom at dawn.

Frozen water and faces.

Dead batteries in cold cars.

Dogs lifting paws looking

for pity in the crusty snow.

No snowmen or snowballs

snow is brittle and dry.


Oh sundogs I wish I could

call the dog catcher, Spring,

to take you away again.

You are much too early

this year. You belong to

the houndmaster March.

Not to gentle November.

Awus tucayou atim! Awus!*


Oh sundogs those who don’t

know better are in awe

of your brittle beauty.

They see colors in the

sky, and my face burns

with windchill and my

eyelashes freeze shut.

Cows and horses steam

and breathe frosty.

Reluctant to get

out of their warm

beds. But we must.


Oh Sundogs, how I wish

I could admire you

from afar, but you linger

peering in the windows.

You chase the dead

stalks of sunflowers

with cold shadows.

Barking at you

does no good

for this sore throat.


Oh sundogs we watch

every sunrise and through

the day, wary of you

bite and your bark.

We wish you gone and

yet some part of us

loves your circles

of icy cold around

the sun. We hope

you won’t stay.

Awus atim. awus!*


We are doing odes for Form For All at dVerse Poets.  This is my ode to -20 in Manitoba today. The sundogs are beautiful but it is around -35 with the windchill so they are best admired from indoors. The lines with an asterix are in Cree and mean “Go away cold dog” and “go away dog”.  The Cree people have six seasons instead of four, and freeze up this year is coming with a vengeance!



  1. Tony Maude said,

    November 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I love the repetition in this, Shanyn – and the inclusion of the Cree language and traditions in the poem. There are loads of really strong images here too – much to enjoy again and again – just not the temperature … smiles

    • shanyns said,

      November 22, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Your words warmed my heart Tony! 🙂 So glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for a great prompt!

  2. claudia said,

    November 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    -20 – oh heck…that is frickin’ cold… just to read it makes me shiver… i think i would let my leg hair grow..you know..to have a bit of a fur..smiles

  3. November 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Excellent – love the inclusion of Cree – here November isn’t cold yet. Just dark dreary and wet.. Would love some sun-dogs and frozen lakes 😉

  4. grapeling said,

    November 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    brrrrrrr. ~

  5. brian miller said,

    November 22, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    ok you are making me shiver just a bit….brrr….its cold here but not quite that…i think if its going to be this cold we need snow…..at least then it makes it a bit more tolerable…or at least i get to stay home…smiles.

  6. November 22, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    We are so soft compared to the ones who lived in nature and knew her so well. I love the inclusion of Cree and this to me feels as though you know the earth in a much more personal way than I do (if that makes any sense).

  7. lynndiane said,

    November 23, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Wow, you caught those dogs this time… but they can’t be muzzled. Really good stuff (I especially like the first three verses)!!

  8. Susan Chast said,

    November 23, 2013 at 3:09 am

    Beautiful Stanzas about and to the sun dogs–are they sunspots? I surely got a feel of ritual and a taste of another culture as your words both admire and fear sun dog and the concurrent ice hemming in the sun’s warmth. May your poem have power to keep it short!

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