Today a Leaf (for William Merwin) – Gerald Stern

Today it was just a dry leaf that told me
I should live for love.
It wasn’t the six birds sitting like little angels
in the white birch tree,
or the knife I use to carve my pear with.
It was a leaf, that had read Tolstoi, and Krishnamurti,
that had loved William James,
and put sweet Jesus under him where he could be safe forever.
“The world is so bright,” he said. “You should see the light.”
“We are born without defenses, both babies and leaves.”
“The branch is necessary but it’s in the way.”
“I am not afraid. I am never afraid.”
The he stretched his imaginary body
this way and that.
He weighs half a gram, is brown and green,
with two large mold spots on one side, and a stem
that curls away, as if with a little pride,
and he could be easily swept up and forgotten,
but oh he taught me love for two good hours,
and helped me with starvation, and dread, and dancing.
As far as I’m concerned his grave is here
beside me,
next to the telephone and the cupful of yellow pencils,
under the window, in the rich and lovely presence
of Franz Joseph Haydn and Domenico Scarlatti and Gustav Mahler


Photo: Grindstone, Maine – September 2019

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