“clouds arranged like asphodel”: Janet McNally’s “Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter”

Janet McNally_Maggie SaysJanet McNally’s “Maggie Says There’s No Such Thing as Winter” is a gorgeous gem of a poem, tender and clear-eyed.

The speaker sits with Maggie in summer, under the shade of a tree, as Maggie strings blue stones together; Maggie has memory trouble (the language suggests she may have been in a coma), and has difficulty processing the speaker’s gentle descriptive reminder of the way seasons change, a change enacted in the poem itself, which begins with an invocation of winter (something I’m sure Ms. McNally, who teaches at Canisius College in Buffalo, knows a bit about) and then travels into summer and beyond.

This is a rather colorless description, I’m afraid, of a very fine poem. Here are my favorite lines:

She forgets that sometimes things don’t stay
where you leave them, that the sky fades

to white even before snow begins
to fall.

What’s your favorite poem about winter?

Recommended Reading: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Yes, it’s another installment in Books Carolyn Is Utterly Embarrassed Not to Have Read by Now.

Image courtesy of Manostphoto/ Freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Manostphoto/ Freedigitalphotos.net

As a voracious reader and lover of sci-fi, it’s pretty amazing that Fahrenheit 451 has missed my to-read pile for so long. Maybe it’s because the contours of the story are so familiar; I felt going in as if I already knew the plot.

Something that startled me was the sheer number of technological advances that Bradbury saw coming in 1953 (because of his long career, I’d always assumed that Fahrenheit was a late 60s/ early 70s book — quite wrongly): wall-sized TV screens, in-ear headphones, drones. I wonder if Suzanne Collins was thinking of the Mechanical Hound when she created some of the monsters in The Hunger Games trilogy.

I’ll skip the plot summary, since you’ve probably got the gist of it, and instead highlight my favorite section: Montag’s meeting with Grayson and the other people of the book, who remind themselves, “we’re nothing more than dust jackets for books, of no significance otherwise.” Grayson goes on to tell Montag how great works of literature are preserved: “Why, there’s one town in Maryland, only twenty-seven people, no bomb’ll ever touch that town, is the complete essays of a man named Bertrand Russell” (179; the grammar’s a little off, but I can’t tell if that’s Grayson’s overexcitement or a faulty edition at work). I found the work of memory, the instinct to preserve ideas and language, deeply moving.

I wonder, though, if regarding oneself as merely a dust jacket for a book is entirely admirable. Certainly there’s a sense embedded in this idea of taking a larger, longer perspective (I’m reminded of Carl Sagan and the blue dot, or Rick’s speech at the end of Casablanca), a way of realizing our individual insignificance over the span of time. On the other hand, one person with a great deal of insight, or fortitude, or kindness, can change the world for the better. But I suppose you do need the world.