Friday, December 19, 2008

`Its Purpose Is to Cover'

The scene looked so benign, so Currier-and-Ivesy. The snow was frothy and white like the head on a newly drawn beer. The kids were bundled, the sleds in the trunk. Someone had recommended a good hill in a city park three miles away. After four or five blocks I realized I hadn’t seen a car, only trudging pedestrians. The streets, with six inches already on the ground, had not been plowed, salted or sanded. The thermometer on the dashboard said 32 degrees -- the treacherous zone between frozen and not quite frozen. On a steep hill, with the kids in the back seat, I couldn’t stop the Olds and ended up swerving sideways into a subdivision entrance, the air stinking of burned rubber. Two miles took 20 minutes but I made it home, sweaty and shaken. The kids were laughing, having another grand school-less day.

At home I found a gracious note from Jared Carter, a poet living in Indianapolis. I didn’t know his work but we swapped exchanged stories about Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, places where both of us have lived or at least visited often enough to know pretty well. Go here to visit his web site, where I found an appropriate poem, “Snow,” first published in Poetry in 1999:

“At every hand there are moments we
cannot quite grasp or understand. Free

“to decide, to interpret, we watch rain
streaking down the window, the drain

“emptying, leaves blown by a cold wind.
At least we sense a continuity in

“such falling away. But not with snow.
It is forgetfulness, what does not know,

“has nothing to remember in the first place.
Its purpose is to cover, to leave no trace

“of anything. Whatever was there before —
the worn broom leaned against the door

“and almost buried now, the pile of brick,
the bushel basket filling up with thick,

“gathering whiteness, half sunk in a drift —
all these things are lost in the slow sift

“of the snow's falling. Now someone asks
if you can remember—such a simple task —

“the time before you were born. Of course
you cannot, nor can I. Snow is the horse

“that would never dream of running away,
that plods on, pulling the empty sleigh

“while the tracks behind it fill, and soon
everything is smooth again. No moon,

“no stars, to guide your way. No light.
Climb up, get in. Be drawn into the night.”

Carter’s snow is an implacable force, absorbing everything, like death. I thought of Conrad Aiken’s once ubiquitous story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”: “Its purpose is to cover, to leave no trace/of anything.” After five snowless years, I’d forgotten that.


Nige said...

Ah yes - and Thomas Hardy's Snow in the Suburbs...

Art Durkee said...

And Whittier's "Snowbound."

Which today in Wisconsin, I am.