Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Architecture of Snow

The "architecture of snow" seems to be first iterated by Emerson in a poem called "The Snow-Storm." I later ran into this imagery in a set of poems by Chris Banks, The Cold Panes of Surfaces. He quotes a line from a Wallace Stevens' poem:
"... Can all men, together, avenge
One of the leaves that have fallen in autumn?
But the wise man avenges by building his city in snow.''
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
For Chris Banks, city in snow becomes the foundation for his poem "Winter Is The Only Afterlife" as he borrows Emerson 's line in "The Snow-Storm" to begin his own elaborate metaphor.

Chris Banks : Winter is the Only Afterlife
The wise man avenges by building his city in snow.
-Wallace Stevens

The architecture of snow was quietly rebuilding January
when a young woman arrived, seeming to float down
the white sidewalks while the rest of us huddled inside
our mortgaged houses. I had been staring out my windows
watching snow fall from the invisible eaves. Passing cars
were churning up a slurry in the streets, a wet papier mâché
of burnt-out stars. She wore a red scarf and had carefully
cinched her wings beneath a cashmere navy waistcoat.
When she turned to look at me, the world was all whirlwind
and white ash, and the words, Winter is the only afterlife.
It gives back everything it takes from us, blazed for a moment
across my brain, like a lantern shining out in all directions,
which is when I knew for certain it was her, and only
for that moment, the white light of snow falling across
her shoulders, itself, a kind of blessing, as she stepped
lightly between this world and the hereafter, one minute
smiling at me and the next vanishing into an apocalypse
of snow, each flake's white galaxy, her grace her own.

Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that snow is almost an obsession with me, which is why this poem bears so much meaning for me. This is a complex poem, full of a richness that explores the universal metaphor as winter as the end of life, and snow as the apocalypse that is an exquisite and grand demise of the beauty we have known and celebrated throughout life, dissolving into the flakes of snow swirling like some distant galaxy of oblivion.

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