752: Snow

752: Snow

752: Snow


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

My family immigrated to the US from Israel in January of 1991. So the first time I saw snow I was six years old. We lived in a basement apartment with hardly any light and iron bars on the windows. Our front steps were a steep ninety degree incline to our front door. When that first snowfall came, it piled on top of that incline, blocking the entire door. From inside the living room, my Aba grabbed a shovel. I watched him fling open the door to a crisp, white wall. Then he cracked it with the lip of the shovel and began digging a tunnel out. In that instance, snow was so much more than a thing that fell. It was a compounding. A blockade. A dense, glittering being.

My sixth year on earth, I was delighted that it snowed a lot in Massachusetts. I remember sitting at one of those barred windows with a fresh journal in my lap. It had a flowered cloth cover and felt undeniably special. Watching the glittering being maneuver through my new, quiet street I wrote down the beginnings of a poem: The snow is a man taking off his clothes in the street.

It fascinated me. This being was so mercurial. Dense enough to fight a shovel’s kiss. Wild and soft enough to undress in the street. And, as my brother and I leapt over slushy puddles after school in the park, it was also capable of transforming into piles of slop––not disappeared, not concrete––somewhere in-between. Fresh to America with a strange new language on my tongue, I knew something about feeling somewhere in-between.

When I was a teen, my older cousin visited from Israel. He was the first to notice flakes hitting the window. “Is this…?” We nodded. Without a word, just bubbling joy, he and his girlfriend ran into the late night suburban street, laughing uncontrollably, dancing to catch a few flakes on their tongues, their sneakers skidding through the slippery beginnings of the storm.

Do you remember the first time you saw snow? Do you remember the last time? Did you taste it––that peculiar cloud-flavor? Did watching it dizzy you, or soothe you?

It's been three decades since my dad cracked that icy wall. English spills more easily from me now. But the event of snowfall remains a speechless place I can go to be that kid again. In fact, the more I watch other adults watching it fall, I become convinced we all undergo a re-innocencing. Yes, no matter how many times we’ve seen it, it moves with an agency and freshness all its own. Like a murmuration of starlings, it is so much more than a thing.

Today’s poem is about who we become in the witnessing. Through his deep immersion in the moment, the speaker’s self seems to fall apart. They are inundated with the lessons of both oneness, and manyness.

by Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes—
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands—
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

"Snow" by Louis MacNeice from LOUIS MACNEICE: COLLECTED POEMS copyright © 2013 Estate of Louis MacNeice. Used by permission of David Higham Associates.