THE PETTY SNOW
Winter’s first snowflakes stuck together on their way down.
There were so many people upon which they fell who were not
sticking together. There was an unsnapped driving glove
fallen to the wet slop, looking like a tired tongue hanging out.
People awkwardly slipped away from each other, bodies taut.
Meanwhile, they looked up, higher up, anticipatory almost,
for the highest mountain hidden in a blizzard. It was almost
religious. No one knew that up there was an English-as-a-Second-Language
teacher. Her car had just spun out and ditched. She sat there.
She could not see the towns or people below, but considered how
the snow at higher altitude dumped in looser, world-torn tongues,
and thought how she had formerly thought how this horribly descended
upon the race. But here, she said, “Beautiful as it is, why do I try
to control my students’ writings? Why, when life is, as one student
had written of heavy snow, ‘like door after door shutting behind like,
real life getting more and more earily quite?’” The teacher got out
of her car, stood in it, what her student called “the petty snow,”
and following one snowflake, the complexity possible in each structure,
each phoneme, each situation or moment, said from then on what
she would correct would be her pettiness, so that there was prettiness.
Could that make a big difference? Remember the driving glove?
Attempting to drive over the mountain was that man wearing
his other, himself petty obsessed with a question: “What good is one?”
Not the deep question, What good is one flake or person? but What
good is one glove? Given the visibility, he mostly saw his numb hand
steering, till perched on his naked hand, superimposed like the sharp-eyed
hawk hunched on a dead branch and disappearing under snow, voila:
the teacher. He too stopped, ditched, but could not see how she saw
the snow as a huge blank piece of paper, out of which now opened
the only door for miles, his door, and how suddenly—suddenly,
the word she warned her students never to use—a red, rare hand
reached out—his hand—and helped her into the knew. Suddenly,
she jumped in, shook herself off, kissed and blew warm his cold hand.
And very unlike him, he made a claim: human feeling—maybe even love—
did not come back with pricks but arrived like talons, because his glove,
the one she had slipped off and now dangled between them, what was that
but some small beady-eyed screaming being carried off to be eaten
so that the bigger being could live? She wondered, she said, how long
it would be before someone below found it, the other.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention
Scott Withiam: “As with a lot of poems that I work on, ‘The Petty Snow’ had been in and out of cold storage since 2006. A few of the images were found, like the driver’s glove, but many more images, characters (bless the ESL teacher), situations, themes came and went as a result of experiment. I like how old writing reveals something new again or how my gained experience allows surer incisions or expansions, or that’s the belief, anyway. Generally, I’m an impatient person. Maybe I’m working on that, too.”