Louise Gluck




Burning Leaves

Not far from the house and barn,
the farm worker’s burning dead leaves.

They don’t disappear voluntarily;
you have to prod them along
as the farm worker prods the leaf pile every year
until it releases a smell of smoke into the air.

And then, for an hour or so, it’s really animated,
blazing away like something alive.

When the smoke clears, the house is safe.
A woman’s standing in the back,
folding dry clothes into a willow basket.

So it’s finished for another year,
death making room for life,
as much as possible,
but burning the house would be too much room.

Sunset. Across the road,
the farm worker’s sweeping the cold ashes.
Sometimes a few escape, harmlessly drifting around in the wind.

Then the air is still.
Where the fire was, there’s only bare dirt in a circle of rocks.
Nothing between the earth and the dark.