Early this morning, a bright white flashed at the windows and thunder shook the house. I knew this blizzard would be a significant one for me. It is the first storm where keeping everyone indoors does not include my son. He is six hours away, a freshman in college.
“An Absolute Vista” is an older poem of mine about a winter storm (judging from my son’s age in the poem, it must have been 2002 or 2003). A few weeks ago, I was visiting Marriott’s Ridge High School, working with students in my role as HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-in-Residence. The high schoolers had been reading a packet of poems, ones I have written and a few that I’ve edited. I asked them which poems they wanted to discuss. A young man at a back table raised his hand and asked for this poem. There were two English classes attending the session, and we had an in-depth discussion about the characters in this poem: who is acting, who is observing and reporting, and what does this say about their relationships? We talked about elements in the poem that create a sense of tension between the mother/speaker, the son, and the father.
There’s a strange detachment that happens when I enter into a conversation about one of my own poems, especially an older one. That detachment helps me. I’m no longer the expert on the poem. Along with the students, I am a reader. Their insights often help me recall details in the writing process that I’d forgotten, or to see elements of the poem I wasn’t fully aware of.
A little history on this poem: It was written in response to William Stafford’s “With Kit, Age 7, At the Beach,” and takes its title from a line in that poem. What do you notice when you read the poems side by side?
An Absolute Vista
By Laura Shovan
Our six year old climbed a snow bank at the back door
to walk and meet his father.
The snow was deep.
White erased everything – fences, sandbox.
Ground was something to imagine.
Why would he go?
His weight was too sleight
to puncture the icy crust with his boots.
Our son floated on the surface, a dark form
crawling away from the house.
Midway he stopped.
No one near but the wind, racing.
My husband left off sweeping pear branches,
strode deeply toward our child,
and lifted him off that shifting surface.
One body, they turned for home,
each step sinking to the good, solid ground.
from Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone
With Kit, Age 7, At the Beach
By William Stafford
We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.
Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.
Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
It’s interesting to look at poems and stories from years ago and feel detached (and for me, to sometimes not remember writing them!) Glad that you returned to this one as a reader, and shared it with your readers.
I had been scribbling lines for a nothing poem when I read this, and your line “White erased everything” sparked an idea. Thanks!
Hi, Buffy. I’m glad that you found some inspiration in the poem… and today’s weather. I love the way that two poems (or more) can have a conversation with one another.
Both lovely, Laura. To me, they’re about care and comfort. I’ve watched the grand-girls take off on a mound of snow, but turn back to glance at me. I always thought they were making sure I was there, just in case. . . Your questions, “Why would he go?” shows the child’s need to break free, yet when he stopped, waited for the rescue he knew would come. The father was busy, but still kept his eye out, didn’t he? Love hearing about your work in the school.
I’ve come to see this poem as expressing a child moving from the safety of house and mother toward older childhood and father. I don’t think my students brought this up, but it would be interesting to talk about the pear tree (there really is one in our yard) and what it might symbolize. Many things, probably.
Laura, the lines in your poem that resonant with me are “One body, they turned for home, each step sinking to the good, solid ground”. What a sense of peace comes at the end of the poem with one body as a visible image. Solid ground is where every parent wants their child to be. I will definitely use this for Winter Wanderings. Thanks for offering.