A Sense of Proportion

On 20th between Madison and Ferry
a line of municipal maples binds the community
to an orderly, serviceable beauty. Platforms
from which our sparrows and starlings
might decorate our domestic sedans,
perhaps these trees serve most to stimulate
the car wash economy. Today, they remind me:

unsatisfied with workaday species, my parents
nailed oranges to a post to attract the exotic Oriole.
When the birds arrived, I wondered if they’d flown
all the way from Baltimore, which in turn
evoked a hotel, gables lined
with black and tangerine, posh clientele
spackled by the vagaries of Maryland living.

By nine I could sigh, climb our single
red maple, which I imagined a national landmark.
Child of movies, I could see the tree even at night
as a kind of beacon, a singularity. White
sheen on the leaves’ pitchy gloss, bodily.
And I too would learn to feel glazed
as any creature accumulating light

cast from stars, hidden in a federation
of equivalent times, distant trains
carrying sugar, coal, whole families beyond
deserts, imposing ranges, shimmering coastlines
said to define the spirit of a people.
Far from the station, the pinpoint aurora,
a line of municipal maples bears its charge.


Copyright @ 2014 by William Stobb. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2014.

About this Poem

“‘A Sense of Proportion’ begins with direct observation of the neighborhood where I live, but quickly leads into memory. I was fortunate to grow up among trees, with parents who cared to watch birds, and with opportunities to be outside at night, alone. I could hear the Empire Builder running west through the dark toward the Dakotas, the high plains, the Pacific coast, and my imagination went outbound with it.”

—William Stobb