A Hundred Gourds 3:1 December 2013
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Commentary: On a Haiku by L. A. Davidson

by Ellen Compton

winter morning
without leaf or flower
the shape of the tree

First published in Tweed 4:3, 1976

Washington is sometimes called ‘The City of Trees’. The avenues and all the smaller streets are lined with trees in hundreds of varieties, and in the warmer seasons the canopy is dense. Such abundance adds pleasure in my urban rambles at any season. But along the route of a winter walk I may sometimes pause and give all my attention to a single tree. What arrests me is its shape "without leaf or flower."

A favorite stop is for an aging cherry. It stands before an old brick wall in an even older part of town. In full blossom it looks no different from any other cherry. In winter, though, this tree tells its age and something of its story. A ragged stump shows where it lost a branch. It leans a little to the east. In winter the cherry is a web of twisted limbs on gnarled trunk, a silhouette in black against the brick.

"The shape of the tree." I trace this habit back through many years to my first reading of L. A. Davidson's poem. Three spare lines have changed the way I look at things I'd been seeing all my life—or thought I had. They remind me to pay attention.

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