POEM: That Beauty in the Trees 

Virginia's Poet Laureate sends us a beautiful poem about autumn.

click to enlarge fall_leaves.jpg

That Beauty in the Trees


You have a life brimming,

                                 you like to say,  

                     with truth, beauty, goodness,

and health, a life of not exactly poverty, and you

         are not really old. This November day,

                     you and your love turn early

from the keyboards and ringing phones and go

                                             walking hand in hand

                     through the respectable neighborhood.


Have the leaves ever been brighter? 



                     is burning the fallen ones

against the law, or is that your

                     happy childhood

         curling out of the deepest layers of your brain? 

(You do not think "soul.") Maybe you say,

         "That beauty in the trees was always there. 

It's just that the fullness of living had

                     hidden it." Your love smiles as if to say,

         Tell me more, O professore!

Therefore, you do: "I mean, the various greens

                                 were their active lives, their

                     consuming of the sunlight,

                                             their making of the molecules

         that keep them going."


And now, the florid maples


                                 sprayed with amethyst,

                     ocher oaks and crimson dogwoods,

incandescent jasmine of the hickories,

                                             carmine fan

                                 of this sassafras flaring

         in the Salmacis-clutch

                                             of a scarlet woodbine can

                     thrill any lovers' stroll into baffled tears.


Why can't we feel this all the time, whatever it is? 


         After a while, you might say, jauntily,

                                 to recover the lightness, "The trees

                     have lost their relentless greenbacks, begin

                                             to live on their small pensions,

         prepare to become winter's

                                 dark skeletons, and so

the yellows and vermilions and magentas, the

                     flashing dazzles that have been there all along

                                 flame out like—what?—like the spirits

         of honest old men

                     who wear their wives' useless breasts, like

                                                         the spirits

                                 of strong, tender women who've grown

                     wispy mustaches." 


She likes the men and women becoming each other. 


         Spirits, she says,

                     with the sidelong look that means

now you must say,

         "Sure. In their eyes sometimes, but

                                 your whole life

is a kind of retina: You can see their spirits,

                     even if spirits can't survive

         the death of the flesh. Anymore than these colors

                                 can survive December." 

                     For the moment,

         you believe what you’re saying. 

And are there such good people?  "Oh, yes,"

                                 you have to say,

                     "for all your smiling. The ones

         not like us: the quiet, simple people who've

                                 struggled every day

for their food and clothing and shelter,

                     who've lived only

         for their children

                                             and grandchildren."


And who turn now away from the sunlight,


                                             you suddenly want to say,

         because it turns away from them,

                                                         and who begin

                                             to burn with

                                                                     the deep, silent anger

                     that we must say, we do say, we will always

                                                         say is a kind

                                                                                 of beauty.




Poem first published in Poetry Northwest


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