California Winter Poem by Karl Shapiro

California Winter

Rating: 2.8

It is winter in California, and outside
Is like the interior of a florist shop:
A chilled and moisture-laden crop
Of pink camellias lines the path; and what
Rare roses for a banquet or a bride,
So multitudinous that they seem a glut!

A line of snails crosses the golf-green lawn
From the rosebushes to the ivy bed;
An arsenic compound is distributed
For them. The gardener will rake up the shells
And leave in a corner of the patio
The little mound of empty shells, like skulls.

By noon the fog is burnt off by the sun
And the world's immensest sky opens a page
For the exercise of a future age;
Now jet planes draw straight lines, parabolas,
And x's, which the wind, before they're done,
Erases leisurely or pulls to fuzz.

It is winter in the valley of the vine.
The vineyards crucified on stakes suggest
War cemeteries, but the fruit is pressed,
The redwood vats are brimming in the shed,
And on the sidings stand tank cars of wine,
For which bright juice a billion grapes have bled.

And skiers from the snow line driving home
Descend through almond orchards, olive farms.
Fig tree and palm tree - everything that warms
The imagination of the wintertime.
If the walls were older one would think of Rome:
If the land were stonier one would think of Spain.

But this land grows the oldest living things,
Trees that were young when Pharoahs ruled the world,
Trees whose new leaves are only just unfurled.
Beautiful they are not; they oppress the heart
With gigantism and with immortal wings;
And yet one feels the sumptuousness of this dirt.

It is raining in California, a straight rain
Cleaning the heavy oranges on the bough,
Filling the gardens till the gardens flow,
Shining the olives, tiling the gleaming tile,
Waxing the dark camellia leaves more green,
Flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile.

Susan Williams 11 January 2016

But this land grows the oldest living things, Trees that were young when Pharoahs ruled the world, ==== ........ There doesn't seem to be much that this author can't handle, does there? Philosophy, grief, joy, beauty, war, despair, hope .

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Jim Randolph 16 March 2005

my memory of this last line is Flooding the lowland valleys like the nile not daylong does anyone know which is correct?

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Karen Winchester 20 November 2020

The Central Valley is at least a daylong drive, and has been known to flood from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers in the winter, much like the Nile. So, Shapiro's phrasing is geographically accurate.

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priskill 11 January 2022

It is 'Flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile' -- I believe it is also a biblical allusion but do not quote me.

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Jim Ewing 22 November 2020

Thank you for honoring one of the most skilled and underrated poets of any generation.

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Erich R. David 21 November 2020

A fair evocation of California. I have two caveats: “ By noon the fog is burnt off by the sun...” This is a summer weather pattern in California. It rarely happens in winter. “Beautiful they are not; they oppress the heart...” Strange take on the California redwoods. I’ve never met anyone who thought these trees were anything other than beautiful.

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Bill D 21 November 2020

" oldest living things" clearly refers to the Bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, which can reach 4800 years. " gigantism" is confusing, as this certainly suggests the far taller redwoods. To me both are magnificently beautiful, in different ways.

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Harriet Fishlow 21 November 2020

The California of my heart’s desire. An ex pat, this how I remember it.

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Tom Domer 21 November 2020

The subtle unforced rhyming pattern is brilliant the images evocative and spot on

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Sonja Renda 20 November 2020

The poetry angel is in the details and words of every line of this poetic evocation of CA.

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Karl Shapiro

Karl Shapiro

Baltimore, Maryland
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