Every October it becomes important, no, necessary
to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded
by leaves turning; it’s not just the symbolism,
to confront in the death of the year your death,
one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony
isn’t lost on you that nature is most seductive
when it’s about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its
incipient exit, an ending that at least so far
the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)
have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe
is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception
because of course nature is always renewing itself—
the trees don’t die, they just pretend,
go out in style, and return in style: a new style.
Is it deliberate how far they make you go
especially if you live in the city to get far
enough away from home to see not just trees
but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high
speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were
in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves:
so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks
like rain, or snow, but it’s probably just clouds
(too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder,
given the poverty of your memory, which road had the
most color last year, but it doesn’t matter since
you’re probably too late anyway, or too early—
whichever road you take will be the wrong one
and you’ve probably come all this way for nothing.
You’ll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won’t last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives—
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion,
gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You’re on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won’t last, you don’t want it to last. You
can’t stand any more. But you don’t want it to stop.
It’s what you’ve come for. It’s what you’ll
come back for. It won’t stay with you, but you’ll
remember that it felt like nothing else you’ve felt
or something you’ve felt that also didn’t last.
Lloyd Schwartz (b. 1941), American poet.