By Peter Halstead

Of what loose shreds
Are snowstorms made;
In what small beds
Their futures laid:

Dendrites formed
And clouds exhausted,
Phone lines stormed
And permafrosted,

Aspens draped
And season snowing,
The guides that shaped
Our landscape showing,

Foaming gloom today reveals
A sky that from its
Box unreels,
A wreathing film of frantic summits

From which the coming time
Eventually will spring,
Fed with all the cosmic rime
The whipping day can fling

At our dimming sleighs,
At the spinning threat of death,
At meaning’s infinite black glaze
On our icy breath—

By such slim
Margins and their
Celestial whim
Can old men stare

At bestial dreams,
Their air-blown threads
And failing seams
Blanketing the sleds,

Because the world’s slight
But sparkling indices
Decided overnight
To freeze.

December 24th, 2003

Tippet Alley
Redone January 13th, 2004

July 23rd, December 17th, and December 18th, 2004


Our lives hang from the threads of subatomic particles. Decisions made by invisible forces, too large or too small to be seen, dictate blizzards, futures, life forms. In Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, Martin Rees points out that, were Einstein’s cosmological constant to vary by an infinitely small amount, we would not exist. John Wheeler, the great Princeton humanist astronomer, long maintained that a contracting universe is proof of cosmic structure, inferring a sort of destiny that shapes our ends, the shadowy force in the margins of the Talmud which in fact controls the text—but just barely, marginally. Tom Stoppard’s play Jumpers tries to silhouette the jump of reason that posits a god, if the definition of god is a sort of author’s message, a sense of proportion, wherein we are not lost in, but found by, time and space. The world unwinds from a blizzard the way Buckminster Fuller theorized that fire was sun unwinding from a tree. He told this to many people, but also to Hugh Kenner’s children, and Kenner told it to me in front of a fireplace at Columbia. When we see our breath, the invisible underpinnings of survival become visible. Snow is a mystery made flesh, a deep structure visualized, the way electricity outlines unseen monsters in the film Forbidden Planet (digressively, a concept leading to the Predator series). Nature is constantly morphing its position, state, or form. Even rocks have metastases, where limestone recrystallizes. My poem “Sublimation” deals with the similar phenomenon whereby vapor experiences a paramorphic change into snow, temperature being the catalyst. There is a Jules Verne novel, Off on a Comet, where an entire ocean, poised on the brink of freezing, turns to ice through the catalyst of a rock dropped by the little girl, Nina.
Snow here is a ripped pillow where the threads that keep the universe secret have frayed, due to just this suspension of liquids, a parallelism for the suspension of disbelief the world must produce in anyone who looks closely enough.

December 24th, 2003

Tippet Alley
Redone January 13th, 2004

July 23rd and December 17th and 18th, 2004