Snow Mounds

By Peter Halstead

On my wife’s fiftieth birthday

We live surrounded by the air made flesh,
Where the floating past and present mesh
Like glinting crystal on the bitter ground
Where the dreams of last night’s storm are found,
Lofty testaments to the frozen air,
Shards made whole that aren’t wholly there,
Hollowed as they are by howling sun and breeze
Until, like shadows of themselves, they fall on trees,
Shells of cells and patched-up filigree
Turning everything we think we see
To an aquarium of colored plots
That glitter like myopic spots,
The kind that dance around the eye
And the morning world emulsify,
Turning deserts of despairing night
To oases of unfocused light,
And rest at last in undulating seas
Of the hidden weather’s sudden freeze,
The mysteries of the atmosphere made real
Where perhaps their sympathies reveal,
Pulling out of thick air as they did,
Just the miracles we knew they hid.


I wanted to say how marriage is something made out of thin air, like snow, a mysterious algorithm that produces great comforting pillows of landscape, enfolding us out of nowhere in a process out of our control but which, by hoping it was there, we were privileged enough to see, so that the past materializes out of its effort and energy the present happiness. The poem describes the crystal-solution phenomenon we observed in January of 1998 at the Shrine Mountain Inn on Vail Pass of prismatic shards of ice crystal suspended in the solution of the moisture-laden, thick wintry air, where the jet stream prevented even the darkest clouds from snowing, but forced the air itself to contain the particles that would usually coagulate into snow crystals, allowing us to participate ourselves in adiabatic cooling, which usually occurs thirty thousand feet above, but this year was going on right in front of us (although we were at 11,000 feet when we noticed it); it was like living in a snow cloud. That this vast rainbowed sun dog, which felt like being surrounded by a crystallized version of tropical fish underwater, this incandescent explosion of what usually was invisible, would finally “crystallize” into snow mounded on the ground in great waves, that we could see in the form of snow natural processes that were beyond our experience, seemed to me to be a perfect metaphor for the miracles we experience in marriage, where our vast naivete metamorphoses into such a wonderful setting for creativity. You work at it gradually, and then after a while all the small successes accumulate into a consistent framework of emotional achievement, which in turn permits other achievements, such as poetry, which might not have arisen, in my case, out of a more chaotic life. I wrote the poem out of gratitude at being allowed to live in the snow, and in the magical snowfall we had made of our own lives. I included my usual reference to the early morning swimming vision where the dots dance on the film of my eyes.

March 7th, 1998