The leaves, the leaves are gone except the oak,
Which cling to trees and rattle needlessly.
The others flame and fall for all to see.
They streak and sizzle, leaving only smoke.
But oak leaves hang as by some unseen yoke,
All browned and curled awaiting sympathy,
Or sap to course and lend vitality —
The leaves cannot perceive the sorry joke.
For spring will end the lie and they will drop,
To drift and rot and turn in time to dust.
As sure as buds will burst to make a crop
Of new, the old will flutter down — they must.
The falling leaves like lovers never stop.
It’s hardly gentle, but ’tis just, ’tis just.
NOTES: It was a mild and beautiful and extended autumn here in the Pacific Northwest, but the rains and winds have returned, knocking most of the remaining leaves off the trees over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Oak trees are not as plentiful here as they are back in the Midwest, where this poem was written some 35 years ago. But if there is an oak around, you can bet it will be hanging onto its leaves long after all the other trees have shed theirs.
Late summer’s sun has baked the grass to brown.
The days grow shorter with each passing day,
Soon, autumn’s chill will make the leaves fall down.
All of this aching beauty will decay.
And yet I love the shadows’ slanting trace,
The once green grain gone golden in its rows,
And how I love the lines etched in your face.
It’s funny, as love ripens how it grows.
The number of our days we do not know.
No sleeper knows if he will ever wake.
So come, let’s join above, between, below.
My dear, let’s cause our fragile clay to quake.
Let us make love as if it’s our last go.
Let us embrace like dawn will never break.
NOTES: It’s not really late summer yet, but it feels like it. It has been hot and dry, giving us the sense of late August when July hasn’t even ended.
The seasons seen to come and go more quickly of late. Perhaps I’m paying closer attention. Perhaps I realize more summers now lie behind me than still ahead.
Something in the air caused me to pull this sonnet out of the vault today. I snapped the photo on my late afternoon walk.
Old streets remind me
I did not know compassion
when I walked them then.
NOTES: I have come into possession of a treasure trove of photos from the late 1960s taken by an old schoolmate, Susumu. He was our Japanese foreign exchange student when I was a junior in high school in 1968 and 1969.
Across the years and across the internet, we reconnected and he sent me the photos he collected during his year in my hometown.
Susumu saw things through his camera lens that I had long forgotten. These are shots I would never have thought to take. Simple street scenes. Iconic buildings long since torn down. Teachers and friends long forgotten.
The gift of these photos is almost indescribable. It is as though I am seeing my hometown again, for the first time. I’m transported back nearly half a century to the place of my childhood, to the places where I lived my formative years.
No fancy Instagram filters are required. These photos already have the faded Kodachrome quality you cannot fake. They come with authentic poignancy.
These photos take me back to my youth. And my heart is filled with questions. What if? If only? Didn’t I realize?