Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Snow On the Backs of Animals -- A Poem by Dan Gerber

At the close of a January one might fairly call dulcet, winter has returned to Michigan. There is more than a foot of fresh "lake effect" snow in the wood lot, and as the temperatures sink toward single figures, we are expecting more. The red pines and the white pines and the cedars along the creek are snow laden. When I get up to walk the dogs, everything glows with a snow-gathered light. There are long interludes between cars passing the house and but for an occasional whinny from horses pastured in the field beyond the trees, there is no sound but that of falling snow.

This weather brings to mind the poet and fiction writer Dan Gerber, who grew up (and lived and wrote for many years) in Fremont, Michigan, not far from here. Someday, I will have to tell the story of how we met, but for now I should at least say that Dan is the first person who let me think it possible that I could revise my life and become a writer. I owe a great deal to his encouragment and friendship.

In addition to three novels, a nonfiction narrative on the Indianapolis 500, a short story collection and six previous books of poetry, Dan Gerber's work has been widely published in a variety of magazines and journals, including The New Yorker, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Poetry, Outside, The Nation, The Georgia Review, Fourth Genre and Tricycle. From 1968 through 1972, Dan and Jim Harrison edited and published Sumac, the legendary literary journal. Dan was the recipient of the Michigan Author Award in 1992, had work selected for The Best American Poetry 1999, and in 2001 received The Mark Twain Award for distinguished contributions to Midwestern Literature.

Dan's most recent collection of poems is Trying to Catch the Horses (Michigan State University Press, 1999). His most recent book, a collection of biographical essays called A Second Life, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2001. After spending time in Key West and Idaho, he and his wife now live in the Santa Ynez Valley of California, where snow is not a daily concern.


I am eagerly awaiting Dan's newest poetry collection, A Primer on Parallel Lives, which is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in April, 2007.

Here is the title poem from Dan Gerber's elegant Snow on the Backs of Animals (Winn Books, 1986), the perfect poem for a snowy day.



SNOW ON THE BACKS OF ANIMALS

There is a peacefulness
when snow falls like this, over everything,
and keeps on falling, windlessly,
on fence rails and ditches, made level now,
filling the upturned pail in the yard,
wiping the field clear of corn stubble, even
smothering the news and anyone
attempting to reach us.

A man walks out on a night like this
and the darkness weighs down his arms.
He forgets his purpose, stumbles,
gives up whatever it was he wanted
and enters the bodies of his friends,
growing deep and luminous.

___________________________

NOTE: A detail from February (1941), a lithograph by Grant Woods (above left) appears on the cover of the 1986 Winn Books edition of Snow on the Backs of Animals.

4 Comments:

Blogger BRENT GOODMAN said...

What a beautiful and quiet poem. Thanks for the read - I'll be sure to pick up a copy of his book now. Reminds me of the famous last paragraph of James Joyce's "The Dead."

10:07 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

Brent:

Yes, Dan is a terrific poet and a great guy. You'd like him and his work.

Greg Rappleye

8:26 PM  
Blogger Gledwood said...

Yes I like that one very much ... I'm glad I came across you, which happened quite by chance. You're welcome to drop by mine as well if you like I'm at gledwood2.blogspot.com. I write a very different blog to yours and it's more in a diary format. Take care now. You have an excellent blog!

All the best, Gledwood

5:55 AM  
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