For our Stanzas web feature, we ask writers to introduce us to their favorite poets by way of a handful of lines. This week, Kara Olson—the poetry winner of 2020's contest, whose poem “Last Night” appears in our Winter 2021 issue—examines “Snow” by Jim Moore.
Jim Moore’s dreamlike poem “Snow” appears in his second book, The Freedom of History, which was published in 1988. The second stanza in the poem offers a meditation on touch and transformation. Like many of Moore’s celebrated short lyrics, the stanza stuns me with its clarity and sense of the unsayable:
Snow’s depth is the instant shape
it gives a thing: what snow touches shifts,
just slightly, bringing the sweet pleasure
of merest change,
the way a human will touch a human
lightly on the wrist and that day
is different, slightly and forever.
I go to Jim Moore’s poems because I find kinship with his spiritual sensitivity. His is the voice I read by candlelight when there’s no place to turn but inward, the voice I yearn for in moments of vulnerability or holiness. And this is no coincidence; after Moore refused to fight in Vietnam, he spent ten months in prison in 1970 where, he states, “the stakes were raised . . . about what poetry could do.” He knew he wanted to write poems that could “help sustain people’s lives in extreme situations.”
Here, snow is the spark of the divine, the creator giving shape to that which snow reveals and conceals, making it new. I’m thinking of the open mouth of the concrete bird bath in my backyard filling into a powder dome. The cold and wet burning of the elements. Of the desire to name a thing once it’s been brought out of itself, and the “sweet pleasure” that slight change evokes.
That fourth half-line, “merest change,” serves as a hinge for Moore to enter “the kingdom of [human] touching” as named by Aracelis Girmay and celebrated in her poem “Elegy.” It is true that we are touched and not touched by everything in this world, and it is true that our brushes with affection are most tender when they are unexpected. When what falls from the sky, just falls . . . can you imagine sitting in a café in the near future, among strangers, lovers, and children, the relief of another human lightly touching your wrist? Can you imagine all of the gentleness that is still to come of this world? The gesture in this stanza is slight, but the transformation is immediate, eternal. Moore argues we are born into such mercy and grace, and I believe him.