February. In Portland we’re having fantastic 50′ weather and warm rain, but I always think of February as snowy, and so it is most often in February poems. One of my favorite February poems is Norman Dubie‘s “February: The Boy Breughel.”
It starts out with this beautiful metaphor,
The birches stand in their beggar’s row:
Each poor tree
Has had its wrists nearly
Torn from the clear sleeves of bone,
“Clear sleeves of bone”! Then it moves to a further beggar image, “These icy trees / Are hanging by their thumbs” which is, well, terrible.
Then the poem turns again, to “Under a sun / That will begin to heal them soon.” The trees are saved! The beggar trees have had it tough, but they will be alright.
A wonderful image, turned and expanded. But then Dubie goes all the way to amazing with the pair of lines finishing the sentence,
These icy trees
Are hanging by their thumbs
Under a sun
That will begin to heal them soon,
Each will climb out
Of its own blue, oval mouth
A tree climbing out of its own mouth. Shadow on the snow? Cut tree branch with new growth? It’s beautiful and a little weird, which makes it all the better.
I’m not sure if the Breughel in the title is Brueghel the Elder or Brueghel the Younger. The boy in the title meaning the Younger, or either one of them as the child in the penultimate stanza? As far as I can tell it refers not to a specific painting, but to a Brueghel-esque real (real in the poem, at least) landscape. Which I like. It’s so clear, from the images, what this scene would look like painted.
I love the exclamation points in this poem (which isn’t a statement I often make). The delight in the colors, the delight in the poem’s own images, or rather its discovery of the images — “Two colors! Red and white. A barber’s bowl!” — is infectious. That implied “aha!” between the “Red and white” and “A barber’s bowl.” It still ends with a touch of natural violence and with snow, but it’s an uplifting February poem.
A couple other February poems I like — Margaret Atwood’s “February,” (in which it is “Winter. Time to eat fat / and watch hockey.”) and Ted Kooser’s “Late February” (in which “the snow is no more / than a washing / strewn over the yards, / the bedding rolled in knots / and leaking water, / the white shirts lying / under the evergreens.”)
p.s. David Young‘s Seasonings: A Poet’s Year is the loveliest month-by-month book I know of. It’s a wonderful combination of memoir, poetry (his own and others), and recipes. If you like any of those things, I recommend it highly. And I’ve tried some of the recipes, they’re nearly as good as the poems.