Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snow Angel

Two cars swing wide in the snowy parking lot
forming a perfect arc, in tandem
leaving lovely equidistant tracks in the
new fallen snow
temporarily renewing my faith in
beauty and coincidence.

But I am in the sub-zero hospital garage
returned from a brief break from her bedside,
during a winter where I will lose
much more than foliage.

She is suspended above me on the 5th floor,
some angel frozen in an ugly rapture
high above the streets of this town
in the hospital where I was born
struggling hard for every breath

a ventilator obstructing more than it seems to aid
barring her from speaking, so that our
only communication is the kiss she blew
through the window as I left an hour ago
and some hand signals pleading for me
to recite the rosary to her

I count the beads down
one by one, ten and one
and hope that she will
forgive my trespasses

praying mostly that the 5th floor
of this sterile skyscraper is
not the highest she will ascend.

2 comments:

Nick Hrkman said...

Dammit. The comment is too long. Have to break it in half. Here goes:

I'm just glad you're writing again. I missed this.

The line about "beauty and coincidence" doesn't fit. Two large abstractions being taped on the end of a very lovely image. Feels like cheating. I would lop off the last two lines of the first stanza.

How prescient is the speaker in the second stanza? It could be that the speaker knows the loss is imminent, but it reads more like something being discussed after the fact, when the full force of that loss is already known and in the past.

Loving the subtle alliteration, particularly in the second stanza: "brief break from her bedside" -> "winter where I will lose" -> "much more."

I would cut "more than it seems to aid" in the first line of the fourth stanza.

The tense is strange toward the end, when you say that you "left an hour ago" and then start to recite the rosary in the present. Should the counting/praying of the end be in the past tense?

Remove "mostly" from the first line of the last stanza.

This might sound like a strange comment, but how much concern really exists that she wouldn't ascend into heaven? This raises a pretty huge point at the end that isn't discussed or alluded to previously, unless you interpret the "rapture" of the third stanza as her being punished. Maybe it's less your concern that she will or won't make it to heaven, but more of a concern that a heaven does not exist but should exist for her, as that sentiment is strong for those wanting a loved one to "ascend" into something better. The latter explanation dodges the question of her good/bad character, but doesn't quite fit the scene - you're reciting the rosary and praying, giving an indication that you have some sort of faith in an afterlife.

The concern for her ascension is mirrored by the speaker's guilt for her own "trespasses." Maybe I just don't know enough about the rosary and Catholicism, but I'm not sure if the speaker is asking forgiveness from the Virgin Mary on behalf of the dying woman or if the speaker is asking forgiveness for herself (or both). Guilt for some wrongdoing is implied - is this the requisite, inescapable Catholic sort of guilt, or is there a specific sin that you're referencing? I don't think you need to get into the specifics of any "trespasses," but some sort of subtle hint might be required to explain negative, guilty undertone of the scene.

Nick Hrkman said...

The hand signals in the fourth stanza could be better described. What, specifically was she doing with her hands that communicated that desperation? Her inability to speak makes these gestures very important and I think a line or two that visually clarifies this for the reader would be helpful.

I want to better tie the image of the cars swinging wide to the rest of the poem (other than the title). Maybe it's already there and I'm not seeing it - two kindred spirits losing traction/grip? Maybe you can reinforce this idea elsewhere by including details about other synchronized or coincidental motion.

You could do something interesting with line breaks or with the counting down of the rosary in the fifth verse. Can't think of anything specific, but it just popped out as a possibility. The prayers of the rosary are so heavily entrenched in repetition that I was almost looking for some sort of repetition used in the poem. Again, my Catholic knowledge is limited, but the almost obsessive repetition of the different prayers becomes chant-like, to my mind, in the same way many chants become so firmly memorized and fixed to the subconscious that they become soothing. Maybe I was looking for some kind of soothing sound device to balance out the guilt and fear and inability to cope with death.

I really like the title, but that might depend on how I visualize the first scene. At first, I saw the cars swerve in the same direction, in tandem, etc. Rereading the poem, I saw them swing in opposite directions, like the wings of a snow angel, which I think is how it is meant to be read. For some reason, I have difficulty picturing the latter reading. I think it's because I'm not sure of the speaker's perspective. In the parking garage, as mentioned in the next stanza? In a car? Outside? I had the hardest time making the visual fit. If it was just a little easier, the title would be that much stronger.

Maybe this is too much, but I feel that the perspective of the poem should not leave the scene at her bedside with the rosary. How predictable am I? I don't think you should take us into the parking garage. I'm seeing the poem as being very narrative and grounded in the visual of the cars in the lot (as seen from the hospital room window, maybe? Did you intend that all along? That makes so much sense to me, visually.), then to you leaving and her waving you back, and then the prayer of the rosary at the end. The parking lot adds a lot of prepositions to the poem, some in a good way (the idea of her being suspended above you in rapture), and others in a bad way (the disorientation of the reader having to picture several distinct scenes and tenses). I would argue that a simplified narrative that doesn't leave the hospital room will keep the reader more focused on what I believe are the strongest concrete elements of the poem: the patient's labored breathing, her pleading hand gestures, and the speaker's recitation of the rosary. The nebulous concepts of guilt, beauty, salvation and death will speak through those elements.

I really liked this, Ami. I hope there's more, soon.