(Little did Mary Kathryn Jablonski know that it would snow twice in October before she could finish this guest blog. So be it. The romance of winter will soon be upon us. Mary is the author of To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, a fine chapbook that includes her own poem, “First Snow.” She’s now married and living in Saratoga Springs and watching the 11 o’clock news for the weather.)
An Appreciation of “Snow”
By Mary Kathryn Jablonski
We share more than names. I recalled after choosing Mary Ruefle for this essay that many years ago she chose me as a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize. She makes one-of-a-kind artist’s books, as do I. She is from Vermont, my secret get-away. She is inaccessible via the Internet, and she has a mystic’s love of birds and snow. Need I say more?
In her essay “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World” Mary Ruefle says, “There is a world which poets cannot seem to enter. It is the world everybody else lives in. And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.”
Check out her fabulous discovery of the connection between a compendium of all knowledge and a duck’s plumage when she came upon five definitions of the word speculum while reading the dictionary. It can be found within the complete essay mentioned above at the Poets.org site here.
As we turn back the clocks, listening to the exodus of geese, there is a palpable anticipation in the air. We are reminded of the illusions of time, control, possession, and perfection. Not by coincidence, we savor the First Snow. Wilson Bentley knew: it is a monomania or (as Mary Ruefle titled one of her books) a tristimania.
My love of snow was compounded when, for a while, I had a lover who lived an hour away. As I remember (or “misremember”) it, if it snowed it was assumed that he would stay the night. No ambivalence, no torturous decisions to be made. Every time I read the poem “Snow” by Mary Ruefle I am reminded of the loss of this lover with whom I shared an unspoken language, whose final coming I could not predict, and whose vanishing I’d mourn repeatedly. In an interview I was recently asked what I was most passionate about. “Nature and human nature,” my prompt reply, wishing only later I had the sense to see how alike they are.
I have written countless snow poems and what I admire in Mary’s poem “Snow” are the clear analogies she makes between the lovers in the house and the birds in the woods, the dead in the graves. There is nothing random here. The language and sequence remain logical and the reader is never lost, but carried along throughout the poem. The poem maintains its intention and comes full circle as it concludes, allowing each association and image to have served its integral function in the piece, building and reinforcing the “isolation and silence.” Her humor is magical, the poem unsentimental. I am often guilty as a poet of a private symbolism, closed metaphors that exclude the reader, in a vehicle/tenor problem. Mary Ruefle remains accessible to those invested, and the rewards are rich.
By Mary Ruefle
Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseriously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who might have to leave an office or meeting, or some arduous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having sex with another person, and go in the snow to me, who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy, though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sorrow. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying “It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,” and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in the beginning stages of snow, know that he is starting his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield, or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we, as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is still snowing, and even half-snow would be something to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely. I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and further along inside the trees and deep inside of the forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deeply recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways, with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth. Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow. When I am inside having sex while it snows I want to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my love to love thinking about the birds as much as I do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all around them, though thinking about the birds is not as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead, I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle, because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious, they are sleeping through the snow and they will be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will be having sex while it snows I want to remember the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.
Copyright © 2007 Mary Ruefle All rights reserved
from The Most of It Wave Books
Reprinted with permission