|Jan/Feb 2019 Reviews & Interviews|
The Night Before Snow
Independently published. 2018. 49 pp.
In Jude Goodwin's The Night Before Snow,winter is a character we come to know well, wearing many guises throughout and providing the lens through which we see events both ordinary and otherwise—and sometimes it's difficult to tell which is which, as so often in this collection does the ordinary show us that it's truly miraculous.
In the first poem, "There I Was Again," we are given a series of such events framed with words that stay with me through each poem that follows: "Truth is, if you walk outside / and water falls from the sky / that's pretty amazing." Whether that water is rain or snow, it really is amazing, and reading these words, I find that I am looking for the numinous hidden in the ordinary as I read. But there is an element of the unexpected as well, letting us know that winter isn't always kind and that we should remain mindful of how that season differs whether we are inside or out. That first poem also gives us a sense of how winter (and life) can surprise us: after we see the ordinary miracle of rain, we are given "what sounded like hail / turned out to be thousands / of green caterpillars dropping / from the sky" and the description of "a man / in Alaska driving along at night / when a moose fell from the sky."
The poem following that one, "In Winter—" situates us solidly in that season, providing us with a sense of both its beauty and its peril. Showing us the stark loveliness of winter, "a flute, played on the edge / of a snow-covered marsh, / will be heard forever." But on the other side of that silvery note is how "The man who carved ravens onto a silver ring for you, will die / in a cabin fire across the lake." Even if it seems that indoors in winter is the safe place, that isn't strictly true. "Demon winter booms / outside my rooms even as I write / these words" the narrator tells us in "Boom": "Is there anyone still alive out there?"
As we become more and more familiar with the chill of winter both inside and out, we learn more of winter as a character—in a way the main character—of these poems. In "Dear Winter," the narrator writes, "It's over between us," and in "The Flat Hand of Winter," "December is drinking scotch / and rubs its lips with rough fingers." In "The Wind The Wind," we read that "Storm thugs are vandalizing / the neighborhood" and "slid[ing] their bodies along my window glass." In the cold season, what is outside often wants to come in. It makes its presence known and can shape our actions.
The title poem brings us back to the beginning, reinforces that sense of wonder that we were given with the rain in the initial poem. But this time, snow is upon us, and "Soon we'll be required to witness / something miraculous, a world / transformed and heaven / brought to earth." Where I write this and revisit these poems, the wind and snow are keeping me indoors. There are holiday lights in the corner, and with these poems fresh in my mind, I'm looking at the gusts of snow off the house next door with new eyes. I know that I'll carry this sense of the beauty in the ordinary with me out of this winter. I've read Goodwin's poems in Eclectica for years, and the power that I always felt in them individually is magnified here in what these poems do together, just as a winter storm builds. "The Wind The Wind" gives us an ideal setting for reading a "good ebook full of stories" but one that works perfectly for these poems as well: "Read them until the batteries / run down, then lie down, / lie down I'm telling you, / and sleep."