Sandra Stone

of Portland, Oregon

Winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2010

Snow Whippets

                   Alexander V. Litvinenko 1963 - 2006

 

                             Suddenly afternoon turned the color of slate.
Some first few snowflakes trembled down
clots on the face of the street.
         The impermanence of my life
came into my mind. I was sick with the news.

                            I sat in the cafe as if I was a passenger
at the glass, watching rain, its filigree,
stumble along the pavement. Vladimir (to no one,
a kind of notation). Smoke resembling dry ice
rose from the grates, debris steaming.
Visor-dipped pedestrians harried
to their platforms, umbrellas
inverted.

                            Evening arrived, taking on the color
of its own imminence. I felt myself
to be hurtling past.

When, before, I found myself, as if without passport
in the Russia I love, still I felt less trepidation
than I did at The Mayfair Millennium Hotel,
in London, a citizen,
on the verge of being deported.

         I scanned faces for someone to love. But, faces
of the passengers were impassive. You were not among them,
you whom I love.
         It is not only that for which I cried out.

                                              Gradually, from the pane,
I saw all that I knew pass before me, a pageant,
their sonorities muffled,
as snow whippets sleeked past the drift.
         I felt I would go into the stile of snow,
that they had drawn me to an attenuated pitch,
that they had elongated me,
that dogs are hungerers,
that I could not make a coat of their pelts,
that I would be devoured
by the musicality of their tongues.

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Juan Felipe Herrera on Sandra Stone

For its fierceness alone – this poem merits praise. J ósef's trembling, lyrical nakedness, Hikmet's torn heart as he rides away on a last train, Rózevicz's fire-eyed stare into the abyss, and Rodnoti's smoldering and impossible love all come to mind in these six shifting, jagged stanzas. It is the shattered line, the interrupted breath-word, that give the piece it's fragile forces and human strength; how it breaks away and at times collapses onto itself making for odd and caustic juxtapositions, as if confiscated and dragged away by unknown agencies. Here too, then, the fevers of Kafka – witness to a whirling world of familiar scenes, yet always "on the verge of being deported." There is one thing, however, that relieves (or consumes?) the narrator's anguish. In the last stanza, the speaker comes to the end of the passage-way entered in the first stanza when "Suddenly afternoon turned the color of slate." This exit is made of seeing-hearing  – it is the gaze of the exiled, "a kind of notation" of the outsider and it is atmospherically streamed by the dog-music of things, that is, the harmonics of the forever-hungers where the animal-like rush of the wild tears free. Yes, all this can happen, even if in a camp of the nameless and formless blanks of "snow."

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