Ariel Francisco’s Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016) leads readers through a breathing portrayal of New York City and its bars, bridges, and buses. Francisco throws us into an urban universe where we are forced to come face-to-face with our own sense of isolation in the city that never sleeps, a feeling illustrated in “Nighthawks of the 24-Hour Donut Shops.” In this poem—which evokes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting—we are silent outsiders observing the usual routine of a diner on a cold night:
Midnight sun of the red blazing “O”
in the window, a beacon for wanderers
looking to escape the cold, or thrown-out
drunks trying to keep the night-talk alive
Much like Edward Hopper’s painting, Francisco presents a picture in “Nighthawks of the 24-Hour Donut Shops” from our perspective as readers. We are out in the cold looking in at other people in a warm diner. We might feel completely alienated from the norm in this situation. However, those in the diner are fellow outcasts—drunks still trying to find some comfort in conversation. Although this poem makes us feel isolated, it also reminds us that we are never alone in feeling alone. Another example of this shared suffering is the poem “Before Snowfall,” in which Francisco imagines a homeless man finding a book in which the writer inscribed, “tell me, is the snow coming down / on you too?” The homeless man responds, “Not yet my friend. Thank goodness, / not yet.”
The collection spends most of its time with those who society marginalizes. Take, for example, “Reading James Wright on the L Train,” where a man on a subway train vomits on himself as surrounding passengers scramble to get away:
… The vomit stretches
like an evening shadow down one end of the car
and I walk towards the other, lay down on a now
This small scenario of cause and effect connect the outsider and the speaker. The speaker could have scrambled away with the other passengers, but they stayed behind. This corresponds with the collection’s overarching message: even disparate people can be a collective.
Before Snowfall, After Rain implies a beginning and end: the first poem is “Before Snowfall” and the last is “Self Portrait with Moths After Rain.” While “Before Snowfall” establishes New York City as the setting and shared suffering as the theme, “Self Portrait with Moths After Rain” is reflective and looks back at the journey we took. The title Before Snowfall, After Rain puts us in that time of year when the leaves are gone and the snow hasn’t started. It’s a time that could be dreary for everyone. Instead of brooding on the struggles of an individual, Francisco reminds us that we never have to be alone with our struggles. We suffer, but we suffer together.
Will Flaherty, an intern with Agape Editions, is currently pursuing a major in creative writing and literature at Binghamton University in his senior year. He has enjoyed writing creatively for as long as he can remember. His passion for the written, musical, and performing arts is reflected through his extracurricular involvement on campus: his writing is published in student literary magazines, he performs at poetry readings, stars in student production plays, and can be heard through the airwaves as a college radio disc jockey. In his spare time, he enjoys playing and listening to music, hiking and camping in the Adirondacks, and playing pickup soccer.