The Snow Dead by Marc Zegans
Červená Barva Press, March 2020
30 pages / Amazon
Since poetry falls into a sacred realm for me, I tend to avoid reading—as well as writing—reviews of poetry books. When I sit with a poem that touches me, it is an intimate experience, akin to prayer, and I am conscious of how easily an overly technical review can sever that gossamer connection to engagement with the divine.
That’s why I won’t take a stanza-dissecting paring knife to Marc Zegans’s The Snow Dead a gorgeous slip of a collection that asks the reader to consider death—and life—and the space they share, a book that acts in a profound way on the reader because of what Zegans calls its “isness.”
“The book isn’t about something,” he tells me, “It’s something that is.”
Since seeking that “isness” is precisely why I read poetry, I would prefer to reflect on what this spare exploration of marks upon the snow—a carefully constructed series of constellated images—shows me when I trail our poet navigator into a field on a winter day. He begins with lines on the surface of the snow, extends those forms into a fuller conjuring of what this frozen ground can embrace, and sometimes entrap. Zegans’s thought-and-image progressions teach me how to look through the deceptively flat landscape of snow to the cold, cruel, and also beautiful depths of the season.
Each spare winter scene has its own emotional climate. Some are as chilly as death, one warms with the poet’s memory of time spent with a lover, “Staring out at the snow-cleaned street.” The poem’s evocations make shapes in the reader’s memory like those marks on the snow, and I know that the next time I see a “snow-cleaned street” its shape will be filled by my own memories of love in Winter.
The poet’s exploration of Winter in nature—its apparent cessation and stillness—leads the reader to contemplate its inexorability. Zegans takes us first into the crevasses of a massif where he looks into cuts “bluing in the narrows”. Finding bodies on the snow, he observes:
The snow dead decay more slowly
The flies do not swarm. We watch.
I find myself watching with Zegans, studying with him both the subtle and the unmissable marks that defile the cold whiteness, communing with images that are both gentle and stark, and which the poet’s sharp eyes and unique language transform from a mere winter’s pause into rounder and more vital meanings. There is the corpse of a snow angel, the yellow piss of a shamed kid, and a fox, “Its neck broke, slight steam/Exiting its once clever mouth.”
In the stillness in which all is quiet, much is contained and frozen, and part of what appears dead in the snow is just waiting. The way we are all waiting now.
Although Zegans drafted this a year and a half before the season of COVID, The Snow Dead, in a prescient way, seems to have anticipated a time when the world would be forced to slow down and exist in relentless awareness of the physical boundaries that separate droplets from membranes, mouths from eyes, and the living from the sick and the dead.
In 2020, when refrigerated cadaver trucks are a denatured mimicry of Zegans’s bluing body shapes in snow, The Snow Dead can lead you, as it led me, into the comfort and calm meaning that nature offers to all seekers, in all weathers. Wilderness has never seemed safer, and when winter comes, I will carry this volume with me into various snowscapes to re-experience the solace and the beauty of its images.
Sandra A. Miller is the author of the multi award-winning memoir Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in over one hundred publications including The Christian Science Monitor, Spirituality & Health, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe Magazine for which she is a regular correspondent. She teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.