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Christmas Reports on Weather of the Soul from Charles Dickens (God bless ‘im!) and Me

from New York in the Snow by Vivienne Gucwa

As some of you knew, we in the Northeast received warnings through all kinds of media in the early part of this week about the likelihood that a powerful Nor’Easter (gee, wonder why they call it that?) might be hitting us sometime on Wednesday, December 16.  Naturally, my wife and I, after dinner on that night, looked out the front door or a window from time to time for snow.  At one point, as she looked out the door at falling and blowing flakes, my wife started reciting a couple of lines of something.  It took me a minute, but then I recognized that they were from an old poem of mine, “Snowstorm.”

Later that night, as the snow deepened and the wind made noises with windows and other parts of the house, we watched, not for the first or second or third time, the film of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott as Scrooge (great!)  Thinking about the movie and story the next day, and thinking again about my poem, I realized that the tale and the poem have themes or thoughts or realities in common, things that are part of what is sometimes called “the Christmas story,” and certainly, as they have been in and of all times, a large part of our present “story” in these sad and outraging years.  So here is my poem, with the hope that it will draw you and hold you and maybe even lift you up a little, like a touch from the Ghost of Christmas Present.

(For some of the non-poetry readers out there, allow me to give only this bit of counsel:  When you come to the poem’s last lines, don’t think that they’re supposed to be figured out or explained, or that they’re supposed to evoke merely one emotion.  Just try to open yourself and receive them.  With my ongoing wishes to you for the best of all that’s good, LR.)

SNOWSTORM

The snow whirls, seething, for hours.

Drunk and angry, four teenage boys

shout from a parking lot, bang

on car hoods and bumpers with sticks.

But the storm wind smothers their sounds.

And though the night‑streets roiled by wind

are moon‑colored, fantastic, alive,

the people walk stiffly, like accident victims.

They shuffle, inching their way, as if

the ice beneath them might crack ‑‑ as if

it covers deep water.

            *          *          *

Bewitched by swirling flakes, the sidewalks

glow with whiteness and secrets.

Mailboxes stand like border guards ‑-

round‑shouldered, short‑legged, patient ‑-

to some invisible country,

where these arc‑lamps lining the walks

are peasants who’ve spent the night searching

for a boy in frozen woods,

a boy the goblins may have claimed already.

 

Bewildered, the rescue party halts,

holding up futile lanterns.

And we feel weary ourselves

from searching for some lost child.

                                 *           *           *

This blizzard, this frenzied whiteness,

is the banished soul climbing

at hard gates of silence.

It’s the night of solitude we turned aside,

switching on music, calling a friend.

It’s the father’s milky, improvident gaze

changing, belatedly, to sorrow ‑-

sparks from the heart grown over with ice,

all their passion transformed

to intricacy, like the jewels of aging sirens.

In their cages of frost, the white sparks beat

with the agitated blur of a television screen

that keeps the children anxious

and dulled for days, watching as the rigid

bodies pile up, electric with color.

           *           *           *

If our souls were still carried off by demons,

we could fly to dark realms

to fetch them back; could stop up our mouths,

seal off our bellies, to keep them safe.

But we comfort ourselves so well

that the soul seeps gradually

out through our pores, ebbing

without sound, like air from the cavern

where miners lie trapped beneath fallen stone.

Betrayed, the spirit wails in a tongue

we no longer understand. It streams in eerily

luminous bands, at the dreamer’s outermost edge:

the soul’s aurora borealis,

the shimmering scrolls of the void.

           *           *           *

Only here and there, the lonely

blessings of the storm squeeze through:

where a small boy’s eyes grow wide

with the whistling, masterly sweep of the snow ‑-

where a child who’s given up

on parents and friends

senses around him the opening ring

of mystery, of crystalline creatures

who descend from their aerie of clouds at evening,

soothing and buoying him,

seizing him with chill

intimations of that vast and final whiteness.

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .

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