Over my many winters, or maybe just this long one and only, I have stood, sat or lain here and watched the snowflakes fall. Some I’ve followed from the heavens to my feet. Others blown away from me by the cold winds that have chilled my heart and frozen my soul. A very few have deigned to spiral and swoop to land upon my lashes, catching my eye more than I caught them. Then there’s you, who I spied one day in your earthward glide, toward me and away, then blown back by winds I never felt but you did. You’re lways defying gravity out there in front of me or at the corner of the corner of my eye. If you ever were to land upon me, I know you’d feel as warm there as summer rain or perhaps a tear on my cheek. One I'll never wipe away.
I can’t recall if it was so gradual I didn’t notice, or all at once, like I suffered some kind of emotional trauma, but the pines catching snow on their needles reminds me of when I found my whiskers had begun going white. I can’t say it bothered me all that much, not like when my hair turned from salt and pepper to a pilar NaCl without the spice and from there to a skinny low-sodium diet from my ears up. But nature certainly has a way of letting one know Winter’s coming, whether a guy's looking at a pine tree in November's falling snow or his face in the mirror on the weekend. By the way, pilar is an adjective meaning “of or related to hair.” I chose it instead of hirsutal because it was less work changing one letter from one of those Doric columns lining the fronts of old public buildings, rather than a whole mess of spell-checked letters in that swishy thing attached to the ass end of a cowboy’s mount. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty hirsutal thing, too.
Wednesday morning, the big doe stepped from the brush girding the stand of pines on the north side of the yard. She was a majestic dream of a deer. Grandest female I’ve ever seen, even hiding her beauty beneath that late autumn coat. Idling halfway across the yard, she stopped, brown eyes looking into mine as I froze in the kitchen window. This dull grey human in the headlights. I broke the connection, blinking loud enough I spooked her. Who am I kidding? She stopped to spook me. How she knew I was intently eyeballing her is probably the same superpower you have when I stare at you, even standing there in my imagination. You just know. So, just like that, soon as she knew I’d been whipped, she trotted the rest of the way into the southside shadows, disappearing with a shake of her tail and three four-beat cloppities of her hooves. And now you’re both shrouded in my forest, your own stand of memory within me. I hope you’ll come back around and see me, even in your dun autumn coat, still shining as grand as you really are. I promise this time I won’t blink.
I used to notice so much in the sky, airliners writing travelogues in white contrail ink, birds penning songs in feathered bunting strung tree to tree, castles and dragons and here and there your face sculpted in billowing vapor, even the poorly cleaned blackboard ceiling upon which crows would scratch their calls. After sundown I’d watch the winter moon rise working hard to escape from the net of limbs the maples tossed skyward to no avail, watch the escapee glide behind windblown clouds, follow stars as they ran their courses as if the gods were twisting the dial on the firmament, and wonder if I was hearing the invisible vee calling the cadence as it sky-marched from Canada to the Chesapeake. I don’t sense so much anymore as I wander alone beneath that world flying above since my neck doesn’t bend back far enough to scan the great dome covering 360 degrees of horizontal wonder. But over there an empty bag of chips is chasing a squirrel up that oak, at dawn the neighborhood windows glow like apricots or 65-inch rainbows, and then there’s this flat me-shaped guy who tripped me the other day when he caught me while I tried sky-gazing again.
I’m sitting at my window watching a mountain being born upon the swatch of ground between me and the shed. Something out there wiggled, distracting my eye from this sheet of white, which lies as flat and dormant as my inspiration and the near-frozen ground from which -obviously - mountains can happen. Again it shakes and an eruption of fresh earth spews forth, cascading down its conical form like I wish great words would from my pointy head. And I spit curses at myself and Nature because there She goes making perfect molehills again while I’m stuck trying to make mountains. True happening. Too true failing.
I’m sitting here watching the oaks slowly shed their ragged russet costumes. They tease me like a stripper might, dropping one leaf from way up there, only to stop the drop on a well-placed limb just below. Maybe this tall lady outside my window is like one of those Gypsy Rose Lee talkative strippers. Where a big part of the act is the teasing patter as much as the ecdysiastic matter. I can’t really hear the leaves fall, though. Not from behind this window. I just remember the lyrics of the song they sang when I was a kid, and I’d look upwards along the trunk and watch oak leaves big as catcher’s mitts drift like tulle all the way down atop me there in the first row while the north wind band blew and, just like today, I thought I heard the leaves whisper, Let me entertain you… Combined two prompts today, because I’m running behind. Had to write poems based on Nature and Memory. The title is a quote from Louise Hovick, Gypsy herself.
I don’t think the trees care if the leaves they flip come up heads or tails. They just let them fall, like coins into an old toll booth basket, something you must do to get from here to there, from Summer to Winter. Sometimes I feel like one of those leaves, flipped from the branch closest to the sky, where I could sometimes feel as if I was flying, only I’m actually tripping my way down the oaken stairway, ultimately jumping into the void between Up and Down. I know the ground's coming, cold and sad as another broken heart, but for a moment or two, I’m defiant, ignoring gravity upon an October breeze, enjoying a freedom I’ve only felt for so short a time before. It’s not the sky in which I fly, but, soon enough, the bare trees won’t block my view of that blue. Unless… Heads!
From their highest branch perch upon us they’ll spy, in this sylvan church on whose floor they’ll all lie. But some have yet to fall, though look at them sway, like bold paintings on the wall of a windy gallery display. They must know come their ends, colors bright as beacons, as cold North Wind portends and their grip weakens. There goes another I see I’d hoped might be staying. Nature’s iconography at which I’d been praying. But all we can do is sigh as they wave ‘bye and fly, remember, when most leaves fall and die come dark mid-November. And that’s how it goes, as years and we grow old. Winter’s silver snows will plate even autumn’s gold. My prayers cannot stop the passage of time. Like leaves we’ll drop when we drop, with or without silly rhyme. It’s October and I’ve fallen, dear, and I don’t care if you’re an oak or birch. Labels don’t matter to me here, leaf’s a leaf, love’s love in my church. Photo ©2015, Joseph Hesch
Lake George, Autumn, 1927 by Georgia O'Keeffe Conflicted leaves hang between summer slick and autumn tweed, at this place on the lake where your heart stays and my invitation says come as you are. And we stand on the deck behind this place, while the setting light upon your face says it’s all right, you saved some space where I can lay my head. And that’s where we are, behind that locked door, you’ve opened in your heart and I don’t need any more than a dream on your pillow. I’ll even sleep on the floor. ‘Cause the invitation reads come as you are. And I’m yours. Sorry for the disappearing act. I haven’t been feeling well. I’ll tell you the story in a week or so. But I was inspired to write this today by looking out my window and into a heart.
Photo by S. Zeilenga When autumn comes, I look back on the trail I’ve just followed, hoping to find out where I’m going while becoming lost in the loneliness of where I’ve been. Here and there I see my footprint pages, those wandering thoughts and feelings about this, that, me and you I didn’t know I’d left behind until I looked back. Back where I was lost. The maples, in their majestic magic, drop their poems, too, allowing today’s skies to grow within their branches with each beat of the wind, showering us with the color and aroma of something leaving the trail toward tomorrow to a leaf-lined tomorrow, shushing our sad memories to wind-swept whispers, and keeping our secrets between the journal pages they safeguard beneath their shadowy hands.