Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Years ago when I lived in Limestone, Maine during a bleak winter, I spent many icy days indoors, watching snow fall and huddling near an old oil stove that valiantly tried to heat one room of a drafty farmhouse apartment. To amuse myself, I listened to 45 rpm records of Tchaikovsky's works on a small record player and memorized quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayaam, a book to which my father introduced me at an early age. It was a comforting exercise, and today I'm surprised how many of the quatrains I recall, especially at odd times; e.g., at breakfast on a winter morning a few days ago .

I suppose the sight of a backyard covered with brown leaves incited the memory. A live oak in the yard seems to shed year 'round, and the leaf-strewn yard brought up the lines: "Whether at Naishapur or Babylon, /whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,/The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,/the leaves of life are falling one by one." The Rubaiyat is filled with nostalgic, philosophical quatrains that cause me to wonder, now, why on earth a 19-year old girl would memorize lines that could be associated with aging? I also think that some strange prophetic wavelength from the universe urged me to memorize almost an entire book devoted to the literature of a mideastern country that I'd one day live in for two years.

A few hours after the lines from the Rubaiyat came to my mind, I was dusting bookshelves and came across the diary of my Godmother Dora, who had literary inclinations, like all Greenlaws seem to have (my mother's maiden name). A short notation for Wednesday, April 7, 1943 read: "When we become old, we lose our leaves more freely. A sudden sorrow and we're nearly stripped. The older we are, the greater the toll. But how we do hang on to the leaves—symbols of life, I suppose—and how do we slow down the death of final leaflessness?"

When I left Sewanee a few months ago, the woods and yard in front of our home had begun to fill with leaves—large yellow and rust-colored ones—and we called a few weeks ago to see whether they had been raked and carried away for the winter. Unlike the shedding live oak in our Louisiana backyard that requires constant raking, the trees at Sewanee deposit enough leaves for only one raking. I've written many poems about falling leaves, and most of them seem to echo thoughts that Dora wrote put her pen to, the latest one being in my book of poetry, Everything Is Blue, published in 2012. The poem is entitled "I Saw the Yellow Leaves Fall Down,

the tulip poplar's obeisance to rain gods,
fluttering hope as they perished,

soon, to be a gold carpet
woven of curling deaths,

brown-tipped faces in the garden,
having flown their last flight

in the arch of a summer sky,
having lived through the end of drought,

brought down before their time
by dark rain and changing light,

a shimmering gift to Him
who moves all leaves,

who cradles them to sleep
in the wet grass

glistening in a new wood,
in the innocent air

of a perfect sky."

And on a positive note, Carole Sevilla Brown writes that leaves provide a home for toads, ladybugs, and other creatures that kill off aphids. Beds of leaves also harbor butterflies during the winter, in larva stage or otherwise. They make natural mulch and retain soil moisture and warmth... sufficient facts to inspire me to leave the leaf bed in my backyard awhile longer!
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