Author's Note-To Find the White Cat in the Snow

Note on "To Find the White Cat in the Snow"

An ambivalent relationship to snow, no doubt part of the shock of coming east after growing up in California, triggered the making of this poem. Snow's decreating overnight deluge unsettled me. Its transforming beauty exhilarated. Either way, the world was home and exile at the same time, and I was caught in their oscillation, like figure and ground. So how to find a point of perceptual leverage, how to apprehend our own place or ourselves in that place? A white figure on a white ground, of course, can't be found. There is no answer. Yet the paradoxical title also suggests a religious (parable, koan) or philosophical (ironic dialogue, tractate) context for the problem, as if it could yield a solution. "Figure the Ground," an exhortation to solve the puzzle or to create another, however, may only be a restatement of the problem. And the lines, despite their wisdom-literature tone, admonish us to abandon the idea of a wisdom giver. We are left with forays of language, theme & variations embodied in hypertext form. The poem's manner of proceeding, its address to the reader/observer, its invitation to the quester/detective implicitly trusts this most powerful method of discovery. Yet instead of the still point, one chance thread may well lead to a sacrifice of certainty at the center. At the same time, the choruses of the poem, like jazz improvisations, are streams of images as unarguable though tentative, finally, as our apprehension of the world. This promise that the mystery will be solved is furthered by clues sprinkled throughout which, depending on what lines you come from at any point, are not clues at all. The poem's variants are stochastic, precise but unpredictable. And its highlighted words are signposts that often lead in circles; the titles, which suggest an ordered world of constituent elements, are often contradicted by the lines themselves. This is only to say that we are turned back always on ourselves to resolve the question again and again.

David Sten Herrstrom
August 9, 1996