Snow Like Leaves

By Peter Halstead

Leaves like Christmas
Trees with lights like
Light and sun like
Sight, all creeping
Through the yellow
Eaves of trembling
Meadow breeze tonight,
Embody in
The valley’s slight
But stunning freeze
The snow like leaves
Drifts down the iced-
Up sheathes of mid-
May’s fleshy sleeve
Like a silent
Acolyte: a
On what the wry
And happily
Eye predicts when
That complacent
Frieze the woody
Season slowly
Weaves around us
Makes believe, this
Aphid green and
Limp-leafed eve, in
Congeries of
Fahrenheit, whole
Swirls and fibers
Of the sudden
Winter sleet that
Leaves behind it,
As it teases
Out the pinnate
Creases from the
Summer’s innate
Heat, just those
Perfectly white
Pieces as the
Crystal night complete.


Liza’s boyfriend Alexis and I were walking through the snow along the upper irrigation ditch in mid-May of 1993 when we came to a section where the setting sun shone through the limpid leaves of the trembling aspens. I was struck at the time by their resemblance to Christmas trees: the leaves were like tree lights because of the sun that shone through them and turned them as green as aphids. A week later it was snowing at sunset, flakes like mothballs falling around the backlit leaves, and I was struck by how the anachronistic superimposition of two seasons at once made a complete picture. The swirling snow made me want to imitate the scene: Christmas with its acolytes and summer with its lights in a fugue like snow or falling leaves where meanings could be doubled: snow-like leaves or snow that falls the way leaves do, for instance. Light and sun like sight, or sun-like sight, or sun that is used like sight. The people, the innocent bystanders of the poem, are the spindles around which the forest fugue turns. The woody season revolves around the viewer like a movie camera, in the way photosynthesis takes sun and makes trees, in the way Bach takes notes and makes worlds. Two opposites, neither one good nor bad, merge to complete the crystal night. Linguistic opposites, modernities such as chloroplastics, cinema, and Fahrenheit, merge with Chaucerian rhythms and Christmas, with its ancient acolytes. I limited myself to a four-syllable line because I started with it, except in the last line, which has five in order to stop the poem, which is one sentence. I had been reading about the hanging nominative, or nominativus pendens, where a sentence is begun with a false subject. I made up my own form of this, the hanging verb, where verb after verb is bypassed as each later verb overshadows the decoy clauses before it. With rhymes as close as snowflakes, I tried similarly to break them up with decoy rhymes, off-rhymes, and sprung rhythms. Winter snow encases summer leaves, smoothing out wrinkles just before the sparkling moonlit night falls. The viewer’s eye is vegetable, at one with nature, or perhaps there is no one to witness the scene except the eyes of trees. May has flesh and a sleeve, and the trees weave us into their trunks like a benign horror movie, the way a parenthesis shelters a clause. The ironies of nature translate into ironies of text: expectable antitheses are in fact not so expectable. The final verb comes at the end in the subjunctive for a stately recidivist coda, to impart a fugal sweep to this barge of a poem, slowly oaring its portly way down the Cam. I almost feel the need to apologize for ripping the reader out of our Philippe Starcked century, our stressed-out lack of metered stresses, but Cathy points out while passing through the note that all poetry moves us into the poet’s house, as Jim Ede did into Kettle’s Yard, and it is just that antiquated displacement, or replacing, which restores us to our ancestral granaries or snowbound valleys.
Tippet AlleyJune 5th, 1993