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… a clear October afternoon, and at one point a full sun was overhead and leaves were swirling down. I put down my rake and lay on the lawn to feel the sun and see the leaves swirling, and everything really was clear: the bright sky, each sharp leaf with red, green, and a bit of rot on its surface landing neatly on the lawn. You rake the leaves down to the street, and every few hours a green truck comes and carts them away, and this too is clear – a nice clear system of gathering and disposal.

Hyperclarified days are rare. This one made me think of Conrad Aiken’s poem, The Room.


Through that window — all else being extinct
Except itself and me — I saw the struggle
Of darkness against darkness. Within the room
It turned and turned, dived downward. Then I saw
How order might — if chaos wished — become:
And saw the darkness crush upon itself,
Contracting powerfully; it was as if
It killed itself: slowly: and with much pain.
Pain. The scene was pain, and nothing but pain.
What else, when chaos draws all forces inward
To shape a single leaf? . . .

For the leaf came,
Alone and shining in the empty room;
After a while the twig shot downward from it;
And from the twig a bough; and then the trunk,
Massive and coarse; and last the one black root.
The black root cracked the walls. Boughs burst the window:
The great tree took possession.

Tree of trees!
Remember (when time comes) how chaos died
To shape the shining leaf. Then turn, have courage,
Wrap arms and roots together, be convulsed
With grief, and bring back chaos out of shape.
I will be watching then as I watch now.
I will praise darkness now, but then the leaf.

**************

The mind, as it turns forward in time, struggles darkly with darkness. I was thinking, all afternoon, about the deaths of people I loved, or loved and hated, or whatever. But anyway diving downward into that chaos which is my own hopeless reckoning with darkness. Not “convulsed with grief” – not courageous enough for that, but certainly wrapping arms and roots together and watching my thoughts.

Watching through the mind’s window whose insistence on seeing it through, seeing through it, makes “all else… extinct.” The effort of drawing up out of chaos, says Aiken, is painful, but there it is, the completed multifarious leaf, shining its edges against the lawn. Ultimately there are cracked walls and burst windows – a painful, earth-altering awakening. Generative, enlightening, painful.

The one black root… the black root
: This underlies the clarifying and there’s no denying it. Chaos resumes after the epiphanies; but “remember… how chaos died / To shape the shining leaf.” The one thing and then the other; darkness, light. As you enter into chaos again – the chaos of every vague and grieving life – remember the natural pattern at play, the contraction and expansion. Let the chaos be, live with it, and eventually once again the light will break. Praise both: the darkness and the leaf.

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2 Responses to “I was raking maple leaves this afternoon…”

  1. Jack Says:

    I like the poem in your first paragraph better:

    I was raking maple leaves this afternoon
    a clear October afternoon,
    and at one point a full sun was overhead
    and leaves were swirling down.
    I put down my rake and lay on the lawn
    to feel the sun and see the leaves swirling,
    and everything really was clear:
    the bright sky, each sharp leaf with red, green,
    and a bit of rot
    on its surface landing neatly on the lawn.
    You rake the leaves down to the street,
    and every few hours a green truck comes and carts them way, and this too is clear

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Jack: You’re right. Not bad.

    UD

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