Raking leaves was an autumn task I enjoyed when I lived in the US. British Rail once coined the phrase “the wrong kind of leaves on the lines”, but I don’t think there are any such things as the wrong kind of leaves. They look more than all right to me!
When first I heard them say
They ought to rake in all New England’s leaves—
Fiery eruption and fall-out from every hot
Volcanic tree in Massachusetts—
I laughed the madness of it
After leaves were soaked and sodden,
But raked beside them anyway:
Cooled coals in the rake’s dark teeth
On the cloudy coldness of a sullen,
With ashy whiteness in my heavy, leaf-brown hair.
And now the clear October ten years on
Sees me rise to this autumnal ritual
I was not born to, raised to
Under the damp, knobbed trunks of English lindens
Lined lovely in a leafy row down Derby Road,
Where leaf led to loam beneath in days, not weeks.
My sapling son, still seed then
In another’s body, unopened acorn
Then unknown in the branch of my own,
Now laughs the folly of it—
Leaps, shoots leafily as we rake
The conflagration of all of New York’s leaves.
I bend to the sweat of them
Making blazing mountains, raking
Wetly clinging leaf on leaf
Shining with showers, still—light,
Frosted frigid by night on night,
Parched paper-thin by molten sun on sun.
My mouth opens round crisp air
As I rake to the rasp and gasp of it,
And my arm aches to the heave of leaves in the barrow.
Now my back breaks to the turn of the steep shovel
In the black clay of the autumn day as I furrow in
This year’s glory for next year’s plenty.
© Lizzie Ballagher