I’m inspired by snowstorms. That doesn’t mean I enjoy shoveling, traffic jams, and cold, but I find snowstorms visually stunning. The transformation of the urban landscape is amazing: backyard boundaries erased, colors and light falling onto snow from dawn to dusk. The wildness of the weather is another thing I try to capture. I have a roof deck overlooking several backyards, which provides an intriguing view of relatively open space in tightly packed Somerville. One fun thing to do is make snow candles: Dig a hole in the snow about 1 foot deep to protect from wind, and add a small (votive) candle. The hole can be carved into shapes or letters.
When that big storm hit us in late January, I decided that I was going to spend the day “live-drawing” the storm. This was partly a goof on all the live-tweeting and live reporting about it, partly an excuse to spend the day drawing, and partly an artistic challenge. The self-imposed rules were that I could only use black and white gouache, applied with brushes without any preliminary pencil drawing. Since the brightest white is that of the unpainted paper, I realized that I was really drawing everything except the snow, but that only forced me to look at the snow even harder. Also, the black mixed with white and the black mixed with water produce entirely different grays, and I pushed to see how much variety of color I could pull out of the combinations. I continued as the next storms came and went. Now I have two dozen drawings and counting, and the effect of the snow on the city is still grabbing my attention.
Boston: Love it or leave it. Or, you know — try to leave, wait an hour for the shuttle, give up and go back home. What to do with this enforced idleness? Write poems about snow. After you finish shoveling your sidewalk. And signing a petition to support the T. Then write poems. Unless you need to watch every episode of “The Golden Girls,” or “Scandal,” then rock yourself to sleep in a corner. Wearing week-old sweatpants, wool socks, and a moth-eaten afghan. I understand.
Dr. Li Shovels!
It was the winter I lost the best
job, and the truck broke, and the ceiling
fell in. Winter of debt, injector pumps, horse
hair plaster dusting everything we owned. It was
the day I got stuck in the square, wasted
day I could’ve spent at home with plaster,
joint tape, perforated ceiling washers,
compound, drywall screws. I love
drywall screws, an inch
and five eighths, five pound boxes.
Dark smudge on my fingers, pulling plaster
home to lath.
February: already sick
of salt, winter’s banks of dirty snows,
picking my way across obscured curbs, slick
streets, I heard your voice
via voicemail, a message
reporting you’d shoveled the driveway, pulled in the truck.
I love you, and I’ve been thinking. I think you
should buy some champagne, because we’re rich.
Rich. In seconds, I stopped fantasizing about calling
in sick. I bought Cardullo’s cheapest sparkling wine,
and soon I had my students laughing, writing
Dr. Li shovels!
Wow! Moving the Great Walls here.
Miracles in snow.
Backhoe in Snow, Boston
When the backhoe got stuck in the snow on our street,
another backhoe came to help. Then the little buddy backhoe
got stuck, too. Traffic piling up behind them, a mailtruck,
ten cars. Nobody honks: too tired. What’re you gonna do?
the drivers shrug. The snow falls, still falling, an always
already of snow in the rising dark. Our mailman, our hero,
helps push, everybody shoveling, doing their part, until
both backhoes lurch forward to cheers, our suppertimes.
Snow boots go on and on, off and on, then off. We hire
the neighbor kid, joke about Belize. We tease the guy across
the street about his half-assed pile, squint up at the roof’s
death-swords of ice, come in for hot showers, hot chocolate,
bourbon, the milk and bread that panic bought. Back in the
before time, back when anything got to us. When we could
still feel. We move — so slow! — through Brady-sized drifts,
Gronks and Gronks of snow. We recite Dave Epstein, weatherman
poet, close read every tweet. Marvel at the physics of snow
banks, shovel-carved alleys, snow mazes, snow sofas, snow walls.
Watch a time lapse video of the snow:
Jill McDonough is director of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston.