Rewritable Memory

By Peter Halstead

We live in clouds; our ground
Is pillowed in the sky; our pines
Spring softly from a mound
Of mist; pure white entwines

Our boughs, enfolds our limbs,
So that the forest floats
Inside the snow; daylight dims
To vapor, and blankness coats

The air like wind; a log
Is muffled up in drifts,
The mountains lost in fog;
Our familiar landscape sifts

Through the growing storm,
Dismantled boughs and rocks
Just hinting at their total form,
Vision’s well-known building blocks.

But less and less the pieces link
(Spare parts without a guide);
Twigs like disappearing ink;
Nowhere for objects to hide;

And yet, here in the blinding snow,
Detached from the band-aids of sight,
We wait for the world to go,
Lost in the growing light

As more and more the whitening page
Lifts up from fading scrawl
And at its final, highest stage
Uncovers nothing at all.


I was thinking here of that simple toy every child has, the pad with the plastic paper, where a special pen draws on plastic which can then be lifted up to erase what’s been drawn or written, gradually or all at once. Snowstorms erase the calligraphy of Pound’s wet, black boughs like that magic pad, a simple effect, but maybe the pad part is not so obvious from the poem alone. I was thinking more obviously of hard drives, with their read-only, write-once, or rewritable memories, and how erasing the memory of the world, even briefly in a storm, was maybe not so much a deletion as a correction, an addition of silence and blinding nothing, in which the world can be found more deeply reflected. I wrote this during a two-day snowstorm in Vail, which in our many-paned bedroom (I was bed-ridden, or the bed was me-ridden) was like being inside a shook snow globe, snow drifting down around me as I lay cozily (if painfully, or panefully) in bed, drifting up. No one poem can convey this endless sifting of the white sky. We lived at 8,660 feet, so the mountains around us disappeared into the clouds during storms (and often without storms). It was like living in a cloud (it was, in fact). Such acts of god cushioned me against acts of man. Trees disappear into the white non-distance; there is no sound, only the tangible silence of falling snow. After living in such austerity, cities tend to crowd the senses, which is fine, of course, if one is trying to get away from them. I had just come from surfing in Hawaii, so I felt as if I were commuting between miracles. Had I not been in bed, as still as the storm, I might not have been as much a part of it. There is something to be said for immobility. The slower we move, the more we see. Festina lente. Fester gradually. Party down.

Tippet Alley
January 29th, 2002