Friday, January 3, 2014


On a shelf in the doctor's office
We woke up this morning to deep snow and a muffling, white hush. School cancelled, work cancelled, for a few minutes the day itself seemed to be called off. But quickly all the neighbors are busy. Mr. Tiepolo pushes his second-hand snowblower up and down both sides of Walton Street. I open the front door and call out to him, "Thank you," but he's tunneling. Bundled in his parka and knitted hat, scarf, gloves, deaf to everything but the sound of his blower, he carves an immaculate path. Diamond-sharp walls of snow appear almost to assemble themselves, luminous white planes at right angles. Other neighbors dig their cars out with shovels. Even little Teddy, who is five, works at his front steps with a miniature yellow shovel.

          Of course I'm cheered by all this industrious work, this business of getting-on-with-life.

          But, then again, what's the rush? I feel guilty—no, not because I don't help clear the snow away, but because I wish to Christ these god damned idiots would just leave it the fuck alone.

          The scraping shovels, the ice scrapers squeaking against windshields, the sound from the snowblower that is so like a military drum roll: just shut the fuck up.

          Still, I hear it under the ugly, percussive layers of human noise: the wind on the snow sounds like the ocean breaking. More resonant than all human sounds, this continual hush is gentle and deadly. Heavy snow on the branches scatters like confetti blown by a phantom. The rushing sound inside a bell with no clapper, a seashell, the invisible tearing of the sky.

          James Joyce said it better, naturally, in the last paragraph of The Dead, after the boring party and all the good manners and bad manners.
Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.
          Sometimes it's alright to want to lie under the snow instead of pretending. Maybe it's not always so valiant to dig roads and carry on. Sometimes isn't it just as admirable to let the snow fall and settle, as we know it always has, and does, and will? Aren't the well-meaning shovelers and snowblowers and little Teddy with his toy shovel all playacting?

          I think it should be okay, for a little while, to welcome the snow each in our own way. My daughter has gone out sledding with her friends—she will revel in it; my son sleeps like a bear, glad for the excuse. I watch the snow explode like fireworks off the tree by the front window, in a bright shaft of wind. I hear the wind on the water at Lambert's Cove—not when I was there as a child, but right now.

          A few days after my mother died, I became numb, and I'm tired of apologizing for it, but I keep apologizing. Before she died, I bleated the strangest sobs, beyond my control, like a seizure of hiccups. Around the time I stopped apologizing for my grief, it closed up on itself.

          A few days ago, a neighbor came to my door to give her condolences and kept prolonging the conversation. I think she was waiting for me to break, wanting me to cry for her.

          I said, "Thank you so much for your concern. I'm sorry, I'm quite numb at the moment." The way her head tilted to one side in a pantomime of questioning, with one ear cocked, I found myself wondering what kind of ears she would have if she were a dog. Short spaniel ears, I decided, with wavy brown fur, cocked back to reveal the tender, pink underside and the warm, empty orifice. 

          Yes, I love my numbness. I protect it. If my neighbor tries to dig me out, I will cover myself back up with snow. It seems like a normal self-protective mechanism, not to be tampered with. When I was in a car accident many years ago, I remember waking up the following morning to a nauseating headache, unable to turn my head in either direction. I recall the slow-motion impact of my head against the side window, pillowed, light, and inevitable, in equal measure.

          I recall my mother in pain and I bounce off.

          I see my mother waking up from anesthesia, smiling suddenly as her eyes focus on mine. She calls me Beautiful, and I bounce off. 

          Boris and Zelda, her meowing Siamese cats, who were always with her, lead me into my mother's bedroom, and I bounce away.

          All the times I didn't kiss my mother, bounce.

          For now, I prefer to think of it as a temporary superpower. With the blink of an eye or the wave of my hand, I banish pain and comprehension. 

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