There is frost on the ground this morning. A rare occasion this winter during which I’ve kept two of my three winter coats shrouded in dry cleaner bags. Had I not come outside to toss some shriveled grapes, an offering to whatever rabbit or deer is brave enough or hungry enough to venture into the open to scavenge, I may not have noticed.
But I do notice, tip-toeing across the dead grass covered in frozen dew. Watching my steps, I see glistening shards of ice, each one a prism throwing a single blade of grass into relief, each one clear and vivid, even in pre-sunrise light. And it is not just the grass. Everything has crisper edges — the patches of bark on the sycamore tree, the curve of the empty shepherd’s hook at the corner of the deck, the line of the roof against the flat sky.
Across the way, behind the grain bins and the trees that mark the property line to the southeast, the sunrise is usually a wild smear of red and orange and pink — like lipstick on a toddler — and the pine trees silhouetted by the sun are just one single smudge of charcoal. This morning, though, the branches of the trees fall across the sky like black lace, every knot and stitch visible, bumpy like Braille or a box grater.
Everything has clean lines. Everything is in sharp focus. Everywhere I look there is increased depth of field. It is as though I have just opened my eyes, as though I have walked into a church for the first time. Which feels odd since to frost something means to cover it or make it less visible, not more so.
At some point in elementary school, I must have learned what causes frost. Maybe it was Mrs. Blitch in third grade or Mrs. Curlin in fourth. Surely one of them had something to say about it, but right now the only frost I can remember is Robert.
That Frost — the one with the large nose and bushy eyebrows — also made things clearer. Using ordinary language, infused with irony and ambiguity, he sharpened the vision of anyone who read his poems. He wrote what he saw, what he heard, what he tasted and smelled and felt, using words so crisp, so concentrated as to make it impossible to thereafter look at a calf, a buzz-saw, a snowy field the same way ever again.
That Frost, the one whose road less traveled emboldened me, more times than I can count, to do the unexpected thing, make the different choice, follow the narrower road. The Frost whose definition of home reminded me, more times than I can remember, that I would never be without a place to go. The Frost whose neighbors, more clearly than any policy debate, enlightened me to the fact that “something there is that doesn't love a wall.” That Frost, like this morning’s frost, opened my eyes.
That’s what poetry does.
I don’t remember Daddy ever reading to my brother and me, with the notable exception of the Bible, but I do remember, with clarity and joy, his reciting poetry. I can still hear him, his deep voice pouring out like cane syrup — thick and sweet:
“O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.”
Sometimes he entertained us with “Paul Revere’s Ride,” but most of the time it was Lochinvar, faithful in love and dauntless in war. And always it was the words and their power. It still is.