Fall’s Warm Milk of Light

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portrait of Dan’s mom, Emma Gibson, praying, by granddaughter Sara Lenssen

 

I sit with braided fingers   
and closed eyes
in a span of late sunlight.   
The spokes are closing.
It is fall: warm milk of light,   
though from an aging breast.   
I do not mean to pray.   
The posture for thanks or   
supplication is the same   
as for weariness or relief.   
But I am glad for the luck   
of light. Surely it is godly,   
that it makes all things
begin, and appear, and become   
actual to each other.
Light that’s sucked into   
the eye, warming the brain   
with wires of color.
Light that hatched life
out of the cold egg of earth.
~May Swenson from “October”
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I know all too well that the end of October means the light changes, the colors fade, and the chill sets in.  I grasp and bundle up what scenes I can preserve now, like harvesting hay to be tied up in bales and stored safely until the middle of winter.  Then, at the right time, when I’m most hungry for color and light,  I loosen the strings and let the images tumble out, feeding me like mother’s milk.
And I am filled…
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Declensions of the Day

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The thistles, rooted out, throng in again;
The single regal rose is mobbed by weeds;
The plums, the pears, the ripening apples, rain
In the sun; and past summer plants new seeds.

Here, or there, these common yearly things
Repeat, repeat, and gardens do not range:
Yet thistles, roses, fruit trees, birds, and stings
Come to an end, and the church bells sound a change.

These many soft declensions of the day,
So hard to take to heart, bear life away.
~Dunstan Thompson from “Passage”

 

 

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This winding down,
this descent into
shorter days and longer nights,
this preparation for an autumn austerity,
reminds me of my ongoing emptying,
once so full of fruit and seed,
now clinging to what is left me~
the joys, the tears,
the eyes of my brimming heart.

 

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A Relinquishing Light

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There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on,
and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.
The sunshine is peculiarly genial;
and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house,
one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine.
It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature.
And the green grass strewn with a few withered leaves looks the more green and beautiful for them.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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If I were a month, I would prefer to be October…

A kindly and homely nature, with comfortable temperatures and just a hint of fogginess,
with flashes of burnt umber flashing misty gold in a relinquishing light.

 

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Kiss the Light

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…I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows…

my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun
~W. S. Merwin from “The Love of October” from Migration

 

 

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A wind gusts through shedding branches
stripping them bare
and carrying the leaves to yards
far away, to a diverse gathering
they have never known:
chestnut, cherry, birch, walnut, apple,
maple, parrotia, pear, oak, poplar
suddenly sharing the same fate and grave,
each wearing a color of its own,
soon to blend with the others
as all slowly melt to brown.

There is lightness in letting go,
for reasons none of us knows.

 

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Sleeping in the Cold

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All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
~William Carlos Williams “Winter Trees”

 

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Winter seems less complicated than other seasons until the wind blows brutal and the ice glaze is an inch thick and snow bends branches to the ground to the point of snapping a tree in half. It is no longer a quiet gentle sleeping time but can take a tree down,  unaware,  in the night, the crack and crash of branches like gunshots hunting down innocent prey.

The clean up has begun, the remnants lying waiting on the ground and the naked trunks scarred.

Despite such devastation, the buds still swell, readying for the complexity of spring.

 

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The Angles of Winter

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Long yellow rushes bending
above the white snow patches;
purple and gold ribbon
of the distant wood:
what an angle
you make with each other as
you lie there in contemplation.
–  William Carlos Williams, January Morning – XII

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For the past eleven days, millions of us wake reluctant to contemplate the headlines:

At what cross purposes are we now?
What right and left angles have been sharpened in the night?
What blowing snow covers a multitude of sins, hiding what we know lies beneath?

And when, O God,  will a naked and merciless January yield to the more welcoming light of Your spring?

 

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Diffuse Light of a Foggy Sky

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And then in the falling comes a rising,
as of the bass coming up for autumn’s last insects
struggling amid the mosaic of leaves on the lake’s surface.
We express it as the season of lacking, but what is this nakedness
— the unharvested corn frost-shriveled but still a little golden
under the diffuse light of a foggy sky,
the pin oak’s newly stark web of barbs, the woodbine’s vines
shriven of their scarlet and left askew in the air
like the tangle of threads on the wall’s side
of the castle tapestry—what is it but greater intimacy,
the world slackening its grip on the veils, letting them slump
to the floor in a heap of sodden colors, and saying,
this is me, this is my skeletal muscle,
my latticework of bones, my barren winter skin,
this is it and if you love me, know that this is what you love.
~Laura Fargas “October Struck” from Animal of the Sixth Day

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Something about the emerging nakedness of autumn reassures that we can be loved even when stripped down to our bones. We do make quite a show of shedding our coverings, our bits and pieces fluttering down to rejoin the soil, but what is left is meager lattice.

But when the light is just right, we are golden, illuminated and illuminating, even if barely there.

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