| so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom
of the button jar
Read separately, the images in Carolyn Hall’s haiku are intriguing, but it is their
combination that sparks a powerful insight of universal significance. A connection is made
between a sudden change of seasons and the brevity of life. This connection resonates with
the epiphany itself, the very nature of which is abrupt. Everything about this poem takes
place in an instant. Even the numerous years represented by the buttons are compressed into
that single moment of revelation.
The immediacy of Carolyn’s haiku is greatly emphasized by the word “so.” “So suddenly”
demonstrates that she was caught off guard. Because the transition recognized is that of
autumn to winter, a sense of anxiety is also produced. A lifetime can be seen to span one
passage of seasons. If we are fortunate, we stream through spring and summer years with
little heed of an end. During our autumn years it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore
mortality and with winter this fact becomes even keener. Little time is left in which to
learn what we must, to pay our debts, to become accountable for our actions. Where did the
time go? And yet, it is especially during changes of season that a concurrent awareness
emerges—the cycling is ceaseless and in this there is an abiding sense of timelessness.
The scene suggested by the first line can be imagined in a number of ways: frost,
snowfall, or freezing rain; hail, sleet, or just plain cold. In this line, the poet (or
someone the poet knows) is seen to be entering winter, the final stage of life. The compound
second image can be readily envisioned yet its depth may not at first be apparent. It represents
time gone by, but it also represents the desire to collect things and, more importantly, the
attachment that exemplifies. Baby teeth (from the spring of life) are seen at the bottom
of the jar, under a gazillion buttons. The buttons depict years, seasons, experiences.
Buttons are used to link things together. A collection of them triggers memories that link
us to the past.
A glance out a window reveals a world that, without warning, has become cold and bleak.
We shift our gaze to a jar of loose buttons. At the very bottom there are tiny teeth.
Myriad buttons have accumulated since those early childhood days! With a shiver, Carolyn
Hall peers into history and at the same time she sees into the future.
With much gratitude, I thank Carolyn for masterfully sharing this poignant moment.