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Winter Avenue

by Lionel E. Deimel



The flat, steely sky

is fringed with thin, bare branches,

their fractal patterns merging

into colonnades of sturdy trunks

on a base of forest floor.


The sky is gray as the road

that meets it in the distance

as the snowflake stars rush forward,

confronting the speeding car

in the bright gloom of the avenue.

Late autumn has been warm in Pittsburgh this year, and the first snowfall of any significance did not arrive until December. I was driving through a wooded valley near my house when I got the idea for this poem. Both the snowflakes and the trees were striking, though it was the snowflakes that convinced me that there was a poem to be written. They reminded me of the star field seen from the bridge of the
Enterprise on the TV show “Star Trek.” In fact, the first version of the poem, written December 8, 2006, very consciously alluded to the show:

The flat, steely sky
Is fringed with thin, bare branches,
Their fractal patterns merging
Into colonnades of sturdy trunks
On a base of forest floor.
The road is gray as the sky
That meets it in the distance.
The snowflake stars rush forward
As the car slows from warp speed.

I called the poem “First Snowfall,” and I was not completely comfortable with this version for several reasons:

  1. The “warp speed” reference to the TV show was obscure and perhaps not precise. Potentially, it detracted from the universality of the piece.

  2. The last four lines—and particularly the last two—seemed only loosely connected to the rest of the poem.

  3. The poem seemed too irregular, but, since I tend to worry about this sort of thing a lot, I wasn’t sure that this issue warranted my concern.

Friends suggested that I change the last line, and members of my writers’ group thought that formatting the poem differently might make it more interesting.

I thought about the poem for more than a week without finding a way to improve it, and, by December 18, I was nearly ready to declare it finished. My attention had  been focused primarily on the last line, as it seemed that a revised line could at least put my number one concern to rest. In the back of my mind, however, I was also wondering if I should be saying that the road was as gray as the sky or the other way around. While contemplating leaving the poem as it was, I began thinking more analytically about the last few lines. In particular, I considered permuting variations of the last two lines, and even the last four lines. Rather than use the “warp speed” reference, I thought of having the car “speed” (or some such) toward the horizon. I also thought of referring somehow to an “avenue”—I wasn’t sure at first if this was the correct or only possible word—of trees. I noticed that the poem had nine lines and consisted on one long and two short sentences. There was an obvious break after line five, and I began to think that I might give myself another line to play with by dividing the poem into two stanzas of five lines.

In the end, I did add a line and break the poem into two stanzas, each of which is a single sentence. The various ideas I was considering came together as shown seen above, and it is probably neither helpful nor possible to list the exact sequence of changes that brought the poem into its final form. Notice that the two first-line references to the sky help to tie the poem together. The emphasis now is less on the car, which only provides an observation post for the reader, and more on the look of the sky and the avenue formed by the colonnades of trees, each of which helps tie the second stanza more tightly to the first. My final decision about the body of the poem was whether the seventh line should end with “at the horizon” or with the original “in the distance.” I finally chose the latter, though not with much conviction. “Horizon” seemed a bit too scientific and precise, but, since the poem was already using mathematical (“fractal”) and architectural terms (“colonnade,” “avenue,” and so forth), the choice was not at all clear-cut.

The final change to the poem was to its title. As a member of my writers’ group pointed out, “First Snowfall” wasn’t very distinctive and didn’t tell the reader much that was not obvious from the poem itself. Moreover, every reader seemed unable, on first reading, at least, to pick up on the fact that the “avenue” referred to in the last line is an avenue of trees, not an urban thoroughfare. “Winter Avenue” makes the snow a bit of a surprise and, I hope, suggests the proper kind of avenue as the reader is digesting the first verse.

Because poems such as this one have no rhyme and rather loose meter, it is sometimes hard to decide if they are good or not. Before I revised the poem, I was having trouble deciding whether the “Star Trek” reference substantially strengthened or weakened the poem. Also, it seemed that the beginning of the poem was stronger than the ending. Having spent more time thinking about the poem and revising it, I am now pretty happy with the result.

— LED, 12/18/2006

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