Searching for Birch Trees in Brooklyn
9th-12th Grade Poetry Winner
My father likes it when I read poems aloud
heading home on the I-95, static playing
and the road stretched before us. Last Tuesday
I read him Birches by Robert Frost, turning each
word over in my mouth before I spoke so I might
not stumble over the part where the ice-storm arrives
and heaven falls shattering down to the ground.
Perhaps that’s what snow looks like where
Robert Frost comes from— heaven-stuff, the kind
that comes down to earth and rests in an empty grain
field asleep in the wintertime, and there’s one boy
standing there, the snow brimming at his knees and just
his footsteps behind him, so that it looks like he is
the only thing left alone in the world. I like to imagine
that the snow looks like bedsheets, the ones still half-warm
from the dryer, and that the boy has snowflakes
melting on his eyelashes.
My father sighed when the poem was over (a soft-but-
a-little-bit-sad sigh, like he’d been holding his breath)
and said that’s what makes good poetry:
knowing simple things, like birches, so well that even
words written on paper can turn trees into grand things.
He turned the radio on a bit higher and Billy Joel played.
The night sky was still and wispy, too light to make out
the stars through the car window so I leaned back and
tried to draft a poem in my head. I thought about birch trees
first; outstretched like they were drawn with only a black pen,
paper, and two aching, skinny lines, but somehow
that poem felt an awful lot like lying. so instead
I thought about sitting on my front stoop, drinking
ice water from a chipped glass, watching the curtains
flutter in the brick house across the street. and then
I thought about the roses. They grow just outside the
apartment building, peeking their noses
through the chain link fence—
they’re light pink things, or maybe white. I couldn’t
remember then, and I can’t remember now,
sitting cross legged on my bed, rewriting
and rewriting a poem about a poem about life.
trying to imagine what snow is supposed to taste like.
hoping to breathe life back into paper birch trees.