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?