Yesterday, November 25th, would have been my father’s 76th birthday. I’ve drafted this poem in memory of him.
His love of leaves and forests, of words and feelings, and his honest appraisal of death has profoundly influenced me. These past few days I’ve walked the woods and noted our mortality and the impermanence of all things. It struck me, You are your father’s son. He used to photograph leaves just as I do. They are lying there creating the grounded bed of lives. And like me, he crafted ode after ode to them.
In Memoriam: Aren’t these Leaves Beautiful? For John Dawson Carl Buck
At night, my father hunched over his calligraphy,
In muted yellow light. He hooked the fountain
Pen in is left hand. The dark oak desk rested
Under his elbows. Black coffee steamed
From the ceramic mug. Dylan caterwauled on
Cassette about the Jokerman, about a rifleman
Stalking the sick and the lame.
It’s been eight years since dad died. Today—
Thanksgiving 2018—is days before he’d turn 76.
I walked the dog under the cold sun, shining false
White through the neatly planted pine rows on plot five.
The frozen soils crunch and the birch leaves crack
Like a broken snare when they give beneath my weight.
Pin oak leafmeal lies strewn across Scotia’s floor.
To the east, hairy and pileated woodpeckers call
Through the chill. Dodger and I pause where
Deer had lain on maple and oak makeshift mattresses.
Someone—a goose hunter perhaps headed toward
The 10-acre pond—had passed through here yesterday.
Dad’s eyes pored over Hopkins’ words he’d woven
Among the fallen golden petioles and veins
Of ginkgo leaves interlaced with Margaret’s understanding
That her grief was for her own blight. But why a blight?
My father asked often. Aren’t these leaves beautiful?
These past cold November mornings
I walked Dodger under the cold sun
Shining almost white through
The neatly planted pine rows,
Birch stands whose leaves add
A muted treble snare to the baritone
Crunch of frozen soils giving to my
Weight, the cinnamon-shaded
Pin oak leafmeal strewn across
Scotia’s floor. To the east, one
Hairy and one pileated woodpecker
Call through the chill. I pause
Marking where deer had bedded
Down the night or two before.
A hunter walked there the day I did.
My father penned calligraphy in
The muted yellow light at his
Heavy desk in the basement study.
I was bringing him coffee
So hot it scalded my hands if I
Didn’t hold the handles. He was hunched
Over with “Jokerman” playing on
Casette. He hooked the fountain pen
In his left hand, crooked. His eyes
Pored over Hopkins’ words he’d woven
Among the fallen golden petioles and
Veins of ginkgo leaves interlaced with
Margaret’s understanding that her
Grief was for her own blight. But why
A blight? my father asked often.
Aren’t these leaves beautiful?