The Changing Of The Leaves

By Peter Halstead

A whorl of wind today,
The woods fall back in layers
Yellowed, limed, and browned
On the pumpkin ground,
A world in flight
Below the unblinking eye
Of a terrible sky,
A planet browned
With rotten bales,
Aimless trees
Unglued and stale
Beneath an air too blue,
Too ill at ease,
The distant light
Too brisk, too real,
To be completely right.
Clouds close in,
A whirl of whims
And chlorophyll
At autumn’s end;
The forests spill
With fallen limbs.

Nothing seems
The same above:
The sun beats down
From routine, not love,
From gravity, not flight,
As our disconnected dreams
Of light
Clutch at summer’s brown
And broken seams.

Last year’s scenes
Have disappeared,
Or come about
Without a trace
Of cosmic means.

And yet no doubt
The changing of the leaves
Reciprocally takes place,
As every forest stares
At new lives out in space,
As the earth itself retrieves
Each day that each leaf dares.

November 6th, 2013
September 30th, 2019


I wrote this a few days after September 11th, 2001. The poem “Blue” (in Volume 1) says very similar things and was a later and more intense reaction to the permanent substitution of horror for the comforting images of traditional fall crops.
“Gorecki” (in Volume 8) was written three weeks before but was filled with an anticipatory dread, a personal sense of the Holocaust. Robert Harth, the wonderful president of the Aspen Music Festival, was to leave a lifetime shaping Aspen musically for a new life in New York just before September 11th. He died of a heart attack soon afterwards. The music died that fall in Aspen, never to return with the same values, the same time for meditation it had had during that golden era at Aspen. The music took everyone with it. Nature went on, but it looked different; the harmonies had changed, the accompaniment was never the same, the way a mezzo can color her voice with tones vastly beyond the scope of chords or notes. We are defined by those undertones and undertones that change the world without ever being officially present.