American Life in Poetry: Column 183
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Perhaps you made paper leaves when you were in grade school. I did. But are our memories as richly detailed as these by Washington, D.C. poet, Judith Harris?
Gathering Leaves in Grade School
They were smooth ovals,
and some the shade of potatoes—
some had been moth-eaten
or spotted, the maples
were starched, and crackled
We put them under tracing paper
and rubbed our crayons
over them, X-raying
the spread of their bones
and black, veined catacombs.
We colored them green and brown
and orange, and
cut them out along the edges,
labeling them deciduous
All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom,
with its cockeyed globe,
and nautical maps of ocean floors,
I watched those leaves
lost in their own worlds
flap on the pins of the bulletin boards:
without branches or roots,
or even a sky to hold on to.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2007 by Judith Harris, whose most recent collection of poems is The Bad Secret from Louisiana State University Press (2006). Appeared in the Literary Review, Spring 2009. Reprinted by permission of Judith Harris. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.