What the Leaves Believe

I was going to write about my rekindled love affair with William Butler Yeats, but he will have to wait. Because today all I can think about are the leaves and Lucille Clifton. I have to start by saying I cannot describe the brilliance of the trees today.the leaves today

We’re lucky to live in a small stand of maples on Gleason Lake about fifteen minutes west of downtown Minneapolis.  I enjoy these trees in the spring when the shadowy green of their leaves emerges after the long winter and, of course, in the summer when they reach their deep glory to cover our lane allowing only a few rays of sun, yet it is now in October when they tell the real story. The trees scream out: “See it only gets better because we will soon do it all over again.”

Yesterday in our poetry class, Deborah Keenan brought in this poem by Lucille Clifton:

the lesson of the falling leaves

the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leavesIMG_7612

A few years ago when I was under the spell of Lucille Clifton, I wrote a poem inspired by her. I bring this poem to you because not only did Lucille Clifton lead the way and help me see the leaves and state my credo, but also because the poem shows how what others write can lead us to what we can write. Without Lucille Clifton, I could never have written this poem. I owe her gratitude–and the leaves too for all their lessons. _______________________________________

What the Leaves Believe

After Lucille Clifton

that they will fall
and wither on the ground

that they will have gone to
all that trouble

to make abundance
to make glory

all that trouble every spring
to fill those branches

so full that a bird is lost
in their midst

and then gone
leaving the bare bones

the bare black bones of branches
what the leaves believe

is what I believe

––Vicky Lettmann


Writing Idea:  What do you have to say about this time of year? about the leaves? Seasons appear in all genres, so if you’re writing memoir, go in your memory bank to fall. Try picking one fall: the fall when you went to junior high, the fall you learned to drive, the fall your father died. Fall on the east coast of North Carolina is not like fall in Minnesota. Give us your fall. Go for ten minutes–just write it out without over-thinking. Smells, colors, sounds, feelings, the light. That kind of thing.


Next blog, I promise: “My Love Affair with William Butler Yeats” (R rated)

8 thoughts on “What the Leaves Believe

  1. I’m such a fan of Clifton’s. Sobbed through her reading of her shape-shifter poems at a standing-room-only reading in Princeton. Here’s a poem by Janet Joyner from the anthology, “Flying South.”

    2 Yellow Leaves by Georgia O’Keeffe

    It is so yellow, butter yellow,
    like a dream of yellow, of a nimbused sun,
    that at first you wonder why the leaves
    at all; and then your eye registers the
    brown on the fringes, or shading
    the contours rising from stem and veins,
    liltingly, like stitched quilting, telling
    this story of the top one, the smaller
    leaf, as it rest lightly there
    on the slightest of diagonals and almost
    caters to the leftward swerve ordered
    by its venial tip, reminiscent of her
    own hands Stieglitz posed
    like petals askance, that leads to the green
    dentelated edge and base of the leaf below,
    introducing a new tale, one of asymmetry
    and chlorophyll, of how or why it
    chooses to go and cede its blade to this
    color, this yellow, like a prologue
    celebrating while lamenting the flight
    of light, making us look, really look,
    until her limpid, yellow lindens
    both crop and enlarge
    the composition of this world
    the way she meant it to.

    • Thank you for sharing this poem, Carol. Janet Joyner captures in words (and O’Keefe in colors) the amazing yellow of these leaves here today. “…this yellow, like a prologue celebrating while lamenting the flight/of light, making us look, really look….” I’ll have to see if I can find this Georgia O’Keefe painting. Our street today is glorious yellow. These maples doing their best to blind me, to make me “really look.”

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