by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
So it’s today, and in the chokecherry this year:
the first leaves turn ochre, there, by the open gate.
I grab the sweater you left on a chair, wrap it
around my shoulders, and—as I did for days last year
until I couldn’t keep up with the season—I pick
every single rusting leaf, each fading flower
and hide them in my apron pocket: their crush
clandestine against my belly. It’s a simple gift
for you—for us—such an easy thing to do
for a few more days of summer.
So it’s today, Laure-Anne Bosselaar begins. “Fall” is a time-sensitive poem that finds me behind schedule.
For the past three seasons I’ve had plans to post “Fall” in mid-September but every year November rolls by and the poem remains unattended. So even though the first leaves have long been raked and bagged, I’m giving this poem its long-awaited moment in the sun, there amongst the season’s very last leaves.
The voice in “Fall” is effortless, off-hand. It’s as if we’ve caught Bosselaar mid-thought. The poem is addressed to “you,” presumably her lover, but the voice is so friendly it almost seems addressed to us, the readers. She’s talking out loud, spontaneously, before she’s had much time to reflect and refine her inner monologue.
On the surface, the image of a woman picking leaves in her yard is simple and charming. To preserve the last bit of summer the speaker removes the first fall leaves from a chokecherry tree. Here is a chokecherry tree
In one sense, this effort to please her lover is romantic. Fighting the end of summer may be a fool’s errand, but how in love she is, hiding those leaves in her apron pocket, just few at first and then more and more till she can’t keep up. She’s like a woman picking gray hairs from her scalp. More gray is inevitable, but just for the moment, she keeps the illusion of youth.
But maybe it’s darker than that.
The woman remains on the house side of an opened gate, through which, presumably, her lover has gone. Permanently? Or is he just out for the day? She wears his sweater as if to keep him close.
You may think I am being cynical and over-reading the poem, but it is after all, called “Fall,” and the tree in question is a chokecherry tree. Chokecherry—the very word calls up tears held back, strangled emotion, situations that bind. And people, she is picking leaves off a tree. It may be a lovely image, but it’s also straight-up crazy.
The jittery dashes and her self-correction of exactly who she is hiding the leaves for—
It’s a simple gift
for you—for us—such an easy thing to do
could suggest a nervousness. Under the breezy tone is there a pleading? Damn you leaves, can’t you let things stay the same? Is her resistance to fall romantic or desperate?
And then there’s the apron, that mark of domesticity and homemaking. Perhaps it’s a gardening apron, perhaps for cooking, but either way, an apron protects the one who wears it from soil and splatters. What is she protecting? She is protecting her lover and herself from reality. From death if you come right down to it.
Is this her role? To stand between reality and illusion? To mitigate the effects of uncomfortable situations, to soften the edges of bad news? Perhaps this is my own preoccupation that I toss on Bosselaar’s poem, but such a role is a domestic one, and one that women, with our antennae so finely tuned to others’ needs and emotional states, often take on.
Laure-Anne Bosselaar was born in Belgium in 1943. She studied theater at Brussels Conservatory. As a single mother of three children, she worked in radio and television and taught poetry at an international school in Brussels.
In 1987 she moved to the United States. At age 48 she got her MFA from Warren Wilson College. She’s been widely published in literary magazines, earned several prizes and fellowships, and has published four books of poetry. Fluent in four languages, she is also known for her poetry translations. She is the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara.
She married poet Kurt Brown who died in 2013. Their collaboration on creative projects and their seemingly happy marriage point to high probability that I’ve mis-read this poem!