Four Snowmen: A Tragic Love Story

Response to Amy Cutler’s gouache painting, “Four Snowmen,” currently on exhibition at SITE Santa Fe

Maureen Burdock

The despondency of the situation is tangible as new snow on one’s barren head. But we’re not talking about new snow here. Nope, we are talking about old worn-out geezer snow—snow that once was fresh and fluffy as a down bunny, new as young love, full of soft optimism and promise of falling forever. And ever and ever and ever. But it couldn’t, could it? No, of course it couldn’t. It had to stop, to settle into solidity, to pack down into permanence. It had to lay and get laid, to be molded and rolled into globes by lonely spinster hands.

They have their regrets now, the four spinsters. Sure, it was fun while it lasted. The snowmen were built to their perfect individual specifications. Soft and sylvan, tranquil as oven mitts, an arrangement for connoisseurs. Big, medium, small. Base, torso, head. Root-vegetable nose. Eyes of coal (not the coal that causes millions annually to die of lung cancer as a result of our massive overconsumption of that mineral, but the coal of yore, the coal of tradition, you see).

For a fortnight they frolicked, and the songs they sang rang out over crystalline hills. Purple bells rang softly like Christmas. The deer loped to the tune of their lovemaking. The salmon swiveled sensuously in their hibernatory icebeds. The dreams, oh the dreams…

But we all know what happened. We’ve all been there. Forever is subject to change with the weather, the bird in the heather, entanglements of passionate sell-outs and by-gones. Forget-me-nots and Hottentots. It’s all contextual. Every movie fades in, climaxes, and fades out.

The new moon brought the easy days to a dripping dénouement. Illusions began to melt. The love the couples had once shared grew thin and worn as an old man’s flannel shirt, patched at the elbows. “We become river,” the roundest snowman whispered to the others.

“We die, we die, we dry,” the others echoed. “Shall we trickle, shall we gush?” “Here come the spinsters, hush, hush, hush.”

The eldest enters, surrounded by her sisters, soft shoe on pine, wanders over to the snow spouses, notices a trickle. A gasp, a cry, a sensuous, alabaster sigh. “How cold!” she sobs, “You run from me! A small stream now, but the future I see! Soon a gushing river, a torrent, you will flow to the sea. You are leaving me.”

“It is fate, say the men, it was always thus. We become, we exist, then we long for the past. Before you shaped us, before we had form, before we were men we were element, storm. You stole our spirits.

Good bye

Good bye

Good bye

Good bye

Now only nostalgia remains.

In an alternative version of this story, the spinsters and their husbands pool their money and rent an ice cream truck. They drive all the way to Alaska and settled in Barrow, the coldest city in the US. For many years they are happy neighbors except that Lisa, the eldest spinster, bosses everybody around. She perpetually annoys her comrades. Eventually, global warming catches up with them and the men melt tragically, before their time.

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About Maureen Burdock

Maureen Burdock was born in the Black Forest in Germany and grew up being enchanted and awed by fairy tales, witches, and magical landscapes. At the same time, her family often told stories of the war years, making her acutely aware of a divided Germany. Burdock arrived in Chicago at age seven, where she learned to navigate a foreign environment and language with the help of teachers, books, and art. Drawing, painting and writing became both communication tools and psychological means for survival. As she matured, the artist used these tools to understand her own identity and the world at large. Burdock’s current work still incorporates narrative and visual elements to probe deeply into her psyche and to explore societal divisions and disconnections. Since 2006, Burdock has been creating a series of graphic novels that deal with gender-based violence around the world. Most recently, she has been working on an animated short film. She continues to incorporate both elements of magic and political awareness into her work. Burdock currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is working on an MFA in studio practice and an MA in Visual Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She facilitates Laydeez do Comics San Francisco, a comics forum weighted towards women creators, which originated in the UK. Burdock has won several awards for her graphic novel work, including high commendation by the global Freedom to Create International Competition and top prize in the Judy Chicago/Through the Flower, Feminist Artists Under Forty Competition. The artist has received critical acclaim by diverse reviewers, including articles in Marie Claire, Mumbai, India; Strip, Copenhagen, Denmark; and the online publications Lamp Project and Art Animal. She has published reviews and articles in publications and catalogs such as Graphic Novel Reporter, Art Practical, and WomanHouse v.4.0 Catalog. Several gender studies and world literature professors have adopted Burdock’s graphic novels for their classrooms, and McFarland will publish an anthology of the F Word Project in 2014. Burdock continues to exhibit her work in gallery and museum venues, and is looking forward to an exhibition of the art for her current book, Mumbi & the Long Run, at Space Station 65 Gallery in London in 2014.
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