The Shade Tree

While out for a walk with my toddler, late,
In the city I have come to hate,
But where I am compelled to stay
By my and his mother’s unmarried state,

He startled me with a sudden glee
With which he pointed out a “tree!”
Indeed, spring’s heavy rains had grown
One far beyond the hope to prune:

Leaves darkly formed a solid crown
So dense it shaggily drooped down
And merged with grass limbs thick in bloom,
To carve with shade a fragrant room

From urban summer’s concrete glare
—An abrupt oasis beyond compare.
A beauty with which I’d lost rapport
In my urbane needing not to ignore

The traffic, junkies gray with grime,
The rising costs, the threat of crime,
The usual city bizarrerie.
Who has time to look at a tree?

What better place to end the day?
But I had chores and bills to pay.
How strangely sad to have to say
“We’ll stop a bit, but we can’t stay.”



A Toast to the Storm

The clouds rise ragged, huge above brick walls,
Roiling, towering, toppling, like sunset sea foam.
Cars swiftly disappear, hurrying home.
Though darkness spreads like ink, you, calm, see all

From inside, safe, in the dim and dry and warm.
You’re Buddhists bemused by war. Its booming bass
No more than underscores the chink of glass
of your contented evening’s toast to the storm.



Adam Wasem is a writer living in Chicago.

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18 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Mr. Wasem,
    Thank you for these 2. Your 1st reminds me of the great fig tree that used to be an emblem of Santa Barbara (maybe even more than its mission). I’m also glad to find someone who pays attention to clouds, although at least here you don’t allow yourself to be distracted by them, as I often allow myself.

    • Adam Wasem

      Thank you, Julian. How little we notice the natural beauty all around us. One of the many salutary things about poetry is how it focuses the mind on what the pressures of life usually squeeze to the periphery. I have to confess I’m not overly familiar with Santa Barbara, beyond the fact it’s known as wine country. Most of my California time has been spent south of LA, in north county, San Diego, where my grandparents, and now my father, live. I can see how my poem would remind you of it’s fig tree, however, particularly in how the lushness contrasts with summer glare, which, as you know, gets quite intense in Southern California. One of the unfortunate consequences of our contemporary urban architecture, especially in the horribly blankly boxy and glassy Mies van der Rohe-ized Chicago downtown, is how it has been built to supplant the landscape’s natural features, rather than complement them. And the narrators really can’t afford to be distracted by those dramatic clouds, can they? Or at least not until they’re safe inside, albeit hopefully not inside a van der Rohe monstrosity.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        On clouds: we are told that one day they will be a path. I have no clear idea what this means, but it does make them worth keeping in mind.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Notice that in “The Shade Tree,” the last quatrain is a direct reminiscence of Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods…”

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

  3. Adam Wasem

    Good catch, Dr. Salemi. Having been a Frost aficionado since college, I realized a long time ago that trying to avoid Frostian reverberations in my poems was pointless, especially when dealing with nature. No doubt inviting comparison with such a classic is unwise, but “imitation is the sincerest form…” etc., and furthermore, maybe I’m egotistical enough not to care. As an aficionado, though, I do have to quibble slightly with your quote, as the title isn’t “Stopping by The Woods…” but just “Stopping by Woods…”

  4. Satyananda Sarangi

    Hello Mr. Wasem!

    These are too good. As pointed out, the first is kind of Frost-ified.
    Looking forward to more from you here.

    Best wishes.

    • Adam Wasem

      Thank you Satyananda. Now that our epic move across the country is finally done, I hope to write and post more for you to read.

  5. Adam Sedia

    I’ve followed your poems on this site for some time and am always impressed by their fine craftsmanship. These two are no exception.

    “A Toast to the Storm” is one of the best I’ve come across. I love the evocation of the approaching storm (one of my favorite images in life), and the deft contrast with the interior comfort. This was masterfully done, particularly in so short a space.

    Both poems demonstrate a use of rhyme that does not interrupt the natural flow of the language. This is very hard to achieve, and demonstrates true craft. I also enjoyed the bittersweet meditation in “The Shade Tree,” which explores a single metaphor on a number of levels. Very well done!

    (As an aside, I live in NW Indiana and frequently come into Chicago for work; “The Shade Tree,” particularly the line “The city I have come to hate” rings especially true to me.)

    • Adam Wasem

      Thank you very much. Coming from such a craftsman as yourself that is high praise indeed. I read a Philip Larkin poem once where he wrote about being asked to create a religion, and if so, he would use water. Ever since then, I’ve taken that image as a sort of lodestar for my work, wherein I try to make the language as clear and pure and transparent as water, to leave as few of my clumsy fingerprints on my aping of the Creator as possible.
      I’m also gratified that you noticed my naturalistic rhyming. As part of my quest for transparency, I believe the rhymes must flow as naturally as the meter and metaphor and everything else. The ideal poem should flow as naturally as a dream, and have the effect of making the heretofore totally hidden into the obvious. Anything that risks “waking” the reader out of the natural flow of his poetic dream is to be avoided, including rhyme.
      And living in NW Indiana and only having to come to Chicago for work seems like sufficient contact with the hellhole it is becoming. Since it allows some of my favorite lines to resonate with you, it’s enough for me as well. As a long time native, I would apologize for Chicago’s current state to those like you who must still sometimes suffer it’s miseries, but no one in my 4+ decades ever had any use for any advice or counsel of mine, and I just moved halfway across the country anyway, the better to plausibly deny any involvement or familiarity with its discreditable goings-on.

      • Adam Sedia

        The water image is interesting. I am reminded of Laozi’s description of water as formless, flowing around any obstacle inexorably, and powerful. Water may be clear and transparent, but it can take whatever shape is made for it and is one of the most overwhelming forces of nature. I think that’s a perfect analogy for poetry.

        As for Chicago, I wouldn’t expect an apology. The city is full of wonderful, sane people. They are just powerless against the machine and the legions of drones propping it up (“Leviathan?”). It is a shame to see the city, with such wonderful architecture, museums, and cultural institutions, not to mention its beautiful parks and lakefront, degenerate into a hellscape. I always joke that living in NWI gives me a front-row seat to a train wreck.

  6. Sally Cook

    Some poems are accurately made, yet awkard and too much filled with versimilitude. Yours are graceful, and accurate in a deeper and more compelling way. I recall during the three years I lived in New York observing how people were crushed by the monstrous height and impersonality of the buildings.. I wanted to shout at them and shake my fist; sometimes I did!
    Leaving that city was like getting out of hell,
    So I share some of your perceptions.
    One year I realized I no longer looked for birds and green on the ground as signs of spring. Instead, I watched for daffodils brought in from New Jersey, made into neat bouquets, and hawked on the avenues.
    Thanks for reminding me how angry I was, and how right I was to leave.

    • Adam Wasem

      Thank you, Sally, for such a wonderful compliment. I’m sorry it took so long to reply, I’ve been on vacation until today, and I thought the comments were pretty much done with. Congratulations on your escape from New York: As a recent escapee from Chicago, believe me, I understand your anger. It was possibly an easier decision for me, in light of what hellscapes American cities have become, as you noted. Part of what I wanted to express with “The Shade Tree” was how unnatural, literally, cities are, and how the artifice is always in danger of crushing our awareness of the natural: The realization you recounted may be an even better illustration of this expression than my poem. I’m happy I was able to provide a little cathartic reminder of your plight then, and some reinforcement of your decision to leave.

  7. Margaret Coats

    Adam, from both these poems, I get a sense of the poet’s urbane nonchalance. I’m wondering whether your voice will change after transit to a very different place, but I suppose we’ll see. Best wishes in the new home being made!

    In the first poem here, it was genuine inspiration to have a child just learning to talk declare, “Tree!” The rhyme there with “glee,” and later with the French word “bizarrerie,” demonstrates the craft required to make rhyming both suit the subject and sound natural. So does “stay” in the first stanza, where we might suppose the long /a/ is an imperfect rhyme for the other three lines in /ate/. But it comes back as the last word of the poem, where the other lines in the final stanza rhyme perfectly with it.

    My favorite touch, though, is the third stanza in “The Shade Tree.” These descriptive lines forming a bower of bliss recall Edmund Spenser.

    • Adam Wasem

      Margaret, I’m so glad you caught that recurrent “stay.” Repeating the rhyme for the final stanza, and ending the poem with the word itself seemed a perfect way of pointing up the irony of the narrator’s situation and punctuating its theme, where on the one hand he is compelled to stay in the city, but for many of the same reasons he is compelled to stay, he can’t afford to stop and enjoy the beauty of the tree like his toddler son wants. The toddler’s glee in discovering the “tree,” in identifying the word with the object with such innocent joy, likewise seemed the perfect contrast to the narrator’s glum disenchantment. I have to confess, any similarity to Spenser is purely fortuitous. I’ve never made it through “The Faerie Queene,” I have to confess; one of these days I’ll have to take another crack at it.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Adam, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your poems. ‘The Shade Tree’ stands out for me. I love the contrast of “An abrupt oasis beyond compare” with the “The usual city bizarrerie” (great portrayal) … and all the stark images that follow making the presence of that tree heavenly. Most of all, I love looking through a child’s eye at the things that halt them in their tracks… it gives adults a chance to see things from a pure and clear angle – a gift for a poet. And, Adam, you have made the best of that gift. Thank you!

    • Adam Wasem

      Thank you kindly, Susan, for your appreciation. You’re very welcome:
      Pleasing a poet as accomplished and prolific as yourself is its own reward. And I do seem to gravitate toward ironic contrast, as you noticed. Perhaps with some time and distance I will be able to appreciate contemporary cities for the marvels of engineering and industry they are, but right now my inspiration can’t penetrate the enervating scrim of blight and political corruption in them, and my sympathy, like yours, remains firmly with the child’s joy and wonderment at discovering the lovely natural amidst the towering circumambient unnatural.

    • Adam Wasem

      You’re quite welcome, Lucia. I found their inspiring events touching, and as John Updike has said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader;” I’m glad I was able to successfully communicate that to you.


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