Falling Leaves

Falling Leaves
Dedicated to the Black Lives We’ve Lost

By STEVEN T. MOORE

I look out the window, having realized evening approaches, and the golden hour — blazing like fire — send sparks lifting off into the air, abandoning the shiny surfaces of every leaf.  

They change slowly, the leaves, moving from green to red, then red to orange, then orange to yellow. The fall is here, and nights are beginning to drop in temperature.  

I close my eyes, still seeing the leaves, like torn pieces of clothing, scatter because of the wind. Innocent—the bird pecking the grass outside my window. Flight—wings that flutter and signal the rhythms of departure. Elegance—how the ground becomes covered with leaves that die, but shed unto death only so that trees keep on living when winter comes.  

I wake from sleep and get ready for my lecture this morning, reminding myself I must buy a new rake from the hardware store. After my day is through, and upon returning home, I do the dirty work, and leave the tied-bags on the street near my mailbox. It strikes me: the rows of bags look like a funeral procession. Each puffed up sack is a hearse. I look back one more time; a glance just to make sure I am still here. 

That night, a nightmare yanks me awake, and I have to go to the kitchen to shake off its residual chill. I put my hands on both sides of the sink, as though I might scream or vomit or weep or break the glass of the cabinets with my fists, glass shards still stuck to the edges of each swelling knuckle.  

I am a child again, and Mark sways back and forth, clung to a piece of sturdy rope. I can feel his silence get heavier each time his shadow crosses, like a cloud that moves and blocks out the sun, over my face. The tree holding the rope, the rope holding his body; I did not know I would ever feel so isolated in this fear. No one ever told me I could be this scared.    

Blood trickles and mixes in with the brown dirt below. I think of Christ as he uses his own spit to make a paste that cures blindness. The wind keeps blowing the leaves off their tree-limbs, and the limbs are branching out to Heaven. Mark’s body—black, singled out, broken, unbearable, unmendable, bleeding—is rocked like a cradle by a death, and no one knows how to pull him back from final darkness. And the entire neighborhood stands there, their faces drained of color by the shock of what they cannot, or maybe refuse to, ultimately understand.  

The church-crowd is frozen, fixed in the terrifying throes of this tragedy. Teachers in their ties or coats drop their pens and clipboards.  Policemen put down their weapons first, for the first time, in a very long time. Lawyers take off their glasses, rub their eyes shut, or put their hands over their twitching faces. Doctors check the pulses of women, whose bodies are strewn across lawns, having fainted into full collapse. Children weep and the parents weep too, failing to comfort the children.  

Sunlight stabs through creases in the blinds, and morning is here. The garbage trucks come to tow away the little hearses sitting at the edges of comfortless curbsides, while sprinklers going off in front of each house hiss and spit like venomous snakes, slithering through the garden. The mailman walks each bundle of mail to its appropriate home, and the retired couple everyone living here calls by first names walk their wolfhounds with heads looking down at the pavement.

After dinner, the leaves will fall, and the leaves will pile up again. When I close my eyes tonight, I will remember the singular individuals, those human beings with souls, with families and friends who love them, those abject bodies disregarded on a daily basis — I see them become leaves:  bagged and ready to be shipped to the incinerator. They fall and remain fallen, because, it is thought, they just couldn’t stand up on their own. They just couldn’t pick themselves up, therefore blown away or stranded or wind-tossed, staggering down the gutters forever, tripping over the piles of other leaves, other bodies, until the season grows more cold, and the frost turns the ends of their bare feet icy blue.

Dr. Steven T. Moore

Dr. Steven T. Moore is a professor in the Department of Language and Literature and director of the McNair Scholars Program at Abilene Christian University

Photo credit: Stephan Harmes on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

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