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{I wrote this poem in 1997 when it won third prize in the Chatfield National Poetry contest. It seems oddly apropos today.}


Winter ripped into our neighborhood last night
Gale and pail of rain turned flake by morning
Gutters filled to overflowing; my basement flooded.
And the riot of yesterday’s autumn light
Gone as though it never burned its magic riots of red and gold.
All the tallest tulip trees and oaks stand naked now,
Black, bucking wet twigs against the steel gray sky.

Bundled in my leather hat, jacket and gloves,
I walk out to survey the carnage of fallen leaf and broken branch.
The wind still gusts to make my eyes smart and my cheeks burn
Low black clouds swim and swirl.
Somewhere a flag cord bangs against an empty pole.

So off I go through deserted streets of a condo Sunday morning
Into the drear of pale November.
The wind sings a shriller note when the leaves are gone,
The hush is replaced by a whistle.


And, walking down the hill toward the main road
I see beneath the broken canopy the first Jewels of November —
Coral leaves laid in relief against the wet black woods
The amber leaves, the carmine leaves of shrubs
Protected by the barren trunks of their taller cousins.

Beside the road, a head of goldenrod casts against green grass.
A few lonely wood asters, white and an occasional blue.
Hanging from the dead vines, clusters of gold and red.
Before me, the sky breaks for a moment only
And a hawk wheels through a single shaft of sunlight
Rejoicing, so it seems, in the thick cold air,
His outstretched white wing fingers glowing white for a moment.

selective photography of flying black falcon

Photo by Nigam Machchhar on Pexels.com

And so I find, here in this gray and lifeless world
Treasures of color and texture and form — and music too
For the overflowing brooks are singing quiet giggles
Just as ten black crows careen and crackle through the trees.

I look down and see a broken piece of branch
Bedecked with lichens, the palest possible shade of blue-green.
I bend to pick it up and out of my jacket pocket coins tumble
Tinkling on the black macadam roadway, they splay themselves:
A shiny copper penny, dime, quarter, nickel and a dark penny.
How fine when I was a child to find a few coins like this! How rich!
I knew the different smell and taste of every coin,
My parents’ dire warnings not to put them in my mouth
Making the taste so much more exotic and exciting.
Now my money comes to me as a blue paper note
Claiming the check was deposited directly in my account.
How efficient, I note.


Another shaft of sunlight strikes me from the briefly parting clouds
As I retrieve my coins one by one
And remember that today is the New York City marathon.
Phillipides, so the story goes, died after bringing the news
Of a Greek victory back, from exhaustion, so we suppose.
But I wonder: was it simply that his life¹s best work was done?
Or could it even be the sheer clear joy of the news delivered?
Or, the ecstasy of the swinging legs and arms, the hot heart,
The heaving chest — feeling so alive that pain itself is joy.


The wind is at my back and I wonder what it would feel like
To run today that long race through the windy streets of New York.
But a walk through the woods is enough for me, enough today,
Stopping to watch the hundred precious scenes laid out before me.
I wonder where all these treasures were last week-end
When I walked this same path.
The answer is, of course, that they were drowned in a sea of color
The neon chaos of autumnal carnival showing off.

I turn back toward home now.
Lonely snowflakes hit and actually bounce once off the black road
Before settling down to melt their brief beauty on still warm tar.

The wind is fully furious in my face.
I dream what lunch I might fix once out of this blowing cold
A steaming chicken broth thick with onions, carrots, and peppers.
And I recall a time when I was a senior in college and had the flu;
The medicine the doctor gave me made me worse
And I ended up not eating for three days
But the at-last, ah-ah, taste of the clear broth I savored oh so slowly!
A feast from a magic bullion cube!

adult beard black jacket cup

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

And I wonder as I begin the ascent up the long hill toward home,
Whether winter might not be the whirling earth’s greatest gift.
What would autumn, full summer, or the tender spring be
Without the deadly in-between, the waiting, the wail, the white.

In a land of endless plenty and eternal life, would we ever see
The Jewels of November?




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