Friday, January 14, 2011

"what buds?"

My son is 8 and although he knows a lot about the world, I'm sometimes surprised at what I assume he knows and doesn't. We had another 2" of snow overnight on Tuesday and therefore (somewhat absurdly) a 2-hour delay on Wednesday, so we had time to gear up and head out to the bus stop half-an-hour early. It wasn't great snowball snow--fine and flaky and extra-sparkly in the sun--so we found other ways to amuse ourselves, like shaking snow off branches (and is there anything more beautiful than dark branches frosted in sparkling snow against a blue, blue sky?) .

"Look at all the buds," I said. "They know spring will come again even though it doesn't feel like it now." I bothered to say it out loud because this knowledge added to my hopeful, sunny, fresh-air feeling. Duncan looked up and said, "What buds?" You know, like he'd never heard of buds. I pointed out the little textured teardrops at the end of each twig on the--actually I don't even know what kind of tree we were standing under. "Each of those is a tiny beginning of a leaf, just waiting for the weather to warm up." "Really? Cool," he replied, and went to jump daringly into the snow from a wall which is rumored to contain a snakehole.

There was time when I eschewed exclamation marks as a sign of weak writing in need of bolstering by flashy punctuation. Frank O'Hara changed my mind about that (and has inspired many others), and see how WCW uses one surprisingly! in this otherwise softspoken poem. I think it renders perfectly the feeling we have when we can cross something big off our to-do list, relax and store up wisdom. Hm. I miss that feeling...

Winter Trees
by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Enjoy Poetry Friday today with Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids--and congratulations indeed to Joyce Sidman for her Newbery Honor medal--it'll look great on the cover of Dark Emperor. Go Poetry!


  1. Yes! I love poems (and art) about trees. Thanks also for the O'Hara link.

    I think sometimes my kids are surprised by what *I* don't know, as well.

  2. i know what you mean about exclamation points, and here i think it works because wcw doesn't exactly set you up for it. you don't "scan" the exclamation at first sight and have to go back and start over, to reevaluate the poem even before it's finished. so much more effective than if he'd repeated those first three lines like an old blues song.

    thanks for sharing this!

  3. Hi, Heidi. Those trees are wise indeed. I'm looking at the interaction between title and first lines -- how WCW relies on the title to tell us "who" is attiring and disattiring. Trust between poet and reader is key!

  4. I love this poem, Heidi. I shared it almost exactly two years ago after a night cross-country skiing outing. That liquid moon draws me in as completely now as it did then.

    And I know what you mean about that ! When I finish a tough or exhausting task, it's usually with a "Whew!" And that's the feeling I get from this tree, too.

    Thanks for sharing:>)

    P.S. Funny that my Captcha is "cultiver," which is almost horticultural. Goes with your bud story. Gorgeous photo!

  5. This is such the perfect winter poem and you picked a wonderful picture to accent it! Thanks for sharing it.

  6. I adore this story of you and your son just talking about tree buds...especially the words "textured teardrops at the end of each twig." Writing with exclamation marks is kind of like goosing a reader - it has to happen at the right time! A.

  7. What a great little moment with your boy! I love those little gems of things we get to pass on once we know there is a small gap.

    So glad you got over your exclamation mark phobia! ;)

  8. I work with 15-year-olds, and sometimes I'm surprised by what THEY don't know! And thanks for the WCW poem. This entire post makes me a little wistful for snow, living as I do in L.A. Plus it reminds me of the wonderful book I'm rereading, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. A belated Happy New Year to you, Heidi! (I find I overuse !'s in e-mails and comments, but rarely include them in novels and poems, except in dialogue.)


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