This second poem in Zingara’s Poetry Picks made it into the “notebook of favorites” for the same reason many poems do – I like it. I like it because I relate to it and identify with the speaker, whom I find believable and authoritative. And while these reasons may not be critically sound, they are nonetheless the primary reasons I chose to write it down in my book of favorite poems and include it here. A brief commentary of some of the poem’s strengths follows.
by Alison Apotheker
from (Slim Margin)
Yesterday, in snow’s rare visit to this city,
my son and I raised his first snowman.
As we rolled the white boulders of its body
my pregnant belly nudged up against them like kin.
By evening, its body leaned to the left so impossibly
I kept checking the window for its collapse.
In the morning, even more so, the body straining
groundward as if to grasp the carrot nose
that had fallen and lay now half-covered in slush.
My son, who hasn’t yet been around the block
with gravity, suspects nothing. I remember
last summer when he skinned his shin on the sidewalk.
I watched his eyes register the body’s betrayal.
Yet he seems not to notice the snowman’s state,
the degree of recline, how little it would take
to return it to an idea of itself.
All over the neighborhood,
snowmen assume such inspired angles,
splayed skywards as if in appeal to their place of origin,
kneeling for their own beheadings,
canted in prayer, tipsy
with the song of their own slow-going.
The relief obvious in their frozen hulking masses
to rejoin the fluid grace of ground waters.
The truth is: before I became a mother,
I knew the body’s longing to be lost.
An untrustworthy lover bound
to forsake us, I’d rather do the leaving
than be left.
But now, as we walk home in the dusk,
my two-year old riding my hip,
patting my cheeks with his mittened hands,
I never want to leave this earth.
Inside the baby tumbles and reels,
already knowing where the body will take us,
that we have no choice but to follow its lead.
*Excerpted from Garrion Keillor’s Writers Almanac
In addition the speaker’s repeatability, there are in fact a number of poetic techniques that contribute to the poem’s effectiveness. The first stanza, for example, provides the reader with a appropriately subtle set-up for the poem. Instead of writing “I built a snowman with my two-year-old son,” the poet opens the topic with an observation of the rarity of snow, suggesting preciousness, and does not reveal the age of the child until later in the poem, when the reader has become truly curious about it.
The word “raised” in the second line is a powerful choice and connotes a process more complex than the simple act of packing and rolling snow to create a shape suggestive of a human being, and further broadens the significance of the event to include the complex experience of raising a family.
Imagery plays a huge role in poetry and is wielded with expertise here in such observations as “the white boulder of its body / my pregnant belly nudged up against them like kin” and “as if to grasp the carrot nose / that had fallen” add animation and whimsy despite the underlying seriousness (mortality) of the poem’s tone.
The meandering thoughts of skinned knees and the longings of youth present in the poem do not distract from the narrative because they reaffirm the overall theme that our to bodies seem always to betray us, or at least resist our desire, forcing us into an internal life and landscape where our bodies matter less. Adding these meanderings in just this way illustrates a lovely mastery of language.
Finally, the extended metaphor pairing the human body and its biological changes with that of the slowly melting snowman is particularly poignant.