Roland Flint’s “Varna Snow” is a poignant meditation on time, specifically on the fluid continuum of past, present, and future. The poem’s dramatic opening sentence alone is composed of a freewheeling tumble of temporal references: “summer,” “years,” “morning,” “hour,” and a specific day (namely, the Fourth of July). The poet, now at midlife—he recalls a childhood event now forty-three years past—ponders the implications of being timebound. Aided by the engine of the imagination, every person, Flint finds, can exist at any moment simultaneously at the juncture of three tenses: in the past, the present, and the future. Here, a natural phenomena, specifically the heavy clouds of windblown seeds released in the early summer by cottonwood trees, triggers a series of observations, first about the poet’s childhood on the North Dakota farmlands; then about his present moment as a scholar visiting Varna (in the early 1980’s, Flint traveled to Bulgaria as part of a project to translate several prominent national poets); and ultimately about the uncertain time ahead, presumably the inevitable experience of death.
The poem begins tied to a specific time and space. It is early June in Varna, the Bulgarian port on the west shore of the Black Sea. For days now, the poet has watched women sweep the fleecy cottonwood seeds that drift like snow along the city sidewalks. That present moment and location are not actually established until...
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