November letter

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems



Dear Todd,

November, & all the creatures of habit
come crowding in. Trees have been reduced
to a series of repetitive gestures;
the forest is in ruins.
Down by the creek on cold mornings,
one can find new sprouts
pushing aside the leaves:
brown curled tongues, crystals of mud.

tree cricket

A tree cricket, its vital parts
yet to be pierced by needles of ice,
comes back to life on a warm afternoon
& searches for a green background
to disappear into. It can’t quite fit
between the white hairs on the trunk
of a striped maple.


One morning I set off without eating,
forgetting how quickly the body can burn
through its fuel this time of year.
Soon, I’m so light-headed I’m seeing spots.
I want to lie down like a rock in the creek
& wait for the current to slow
& hold me in place. Hibernation
never seemed more attractive.

dead cuckoo

Instead, I turn back & find the spot
in a catalpa tree where a yellow-billed cuckoo
came to a mysterious end, draped
over a twig like a forgotten stole.
How long has it been there,
hidden by the tree’s commodious parasols,
eponymous bill shut tight as any bud?
Behind it on the hillside, the witch hazel
blossoms have shriveled, the leaves are down.
Autumn is almost out of surprises.
When the snow comes,
we will greet it as a liberator.
For a little while at least it will seem
like a fresh start.

Series Navigation← Second NatureNovember Sabbath →

14 Replies to “November letter”

  1. That is a very lovely ramble in the woods poem, technically perfect and the subtle change in tone at the end elevates and gives the piece a sense of depth, the thought extends out of the poem forward in time. Very lovely.

  2. dale: I’ve seen that dark streak often here, to the point where I think of it as characteristic of Dave’s work.

    Dave: I love the juxtapositions here — especially the bird, who quite likely succumbed to the same error that staggered even a large mammal like yourself….

    Down here, we’ve got a bit more green left than shows in your photos — besides ferns, some of the bushes still have a a few green leaves, crabgrass and wild garlic are still toughing it out, and of course the dratted box ivy is still strangling half the trees.

    That heron I saw today must have been looking for food, but even the minnows have packed it in. (I wonder if it can eat a squirrel? ;-) )

  3. Nice poem, Dave. Yeah, the essence of November. The snow will liven things up. (Now I’m remembering an old Greg Brown song about having a bad day, “It look like February 19th and November 8th/They had an ugly little baby and they’re gonna call it Today…”)

  4. Dave, this is such a beautiful combination of lines and photographs. The final stanza is exquisite.

    “Instead, I turn back & find the spot
    in a catalpa tree where a yellow-billed cuckoo …
    like a fresh start.”

  5. Paul – Thanks. I’d thought this was going to be an essay when I began writing, but the form didn’t take too long to assert itself.

    dale – I guess I’d agree with David: I don’t think this is an entirely new mood for me. However, I must confess it was written under the influence of Georg Trakl, and no one did autumn melancholy better than him.

    David – There still is some green here, but almost all of it is close to the ground – except for tree trunks right aftr a heavy rain or wet snow, when the lichens open their stomata.

    Marie – Hey, thanks for stopping by.

    carolee – Thanks. I wasn’t sure whether to expand on that thought or not. Glad it worked for you as-is.

    leslee – That’s a pretty funny verse! But as a February baby I do feel some affection for these dreariest times of the year.

    Michelle – Glad the combo worked for you. Usually I’ll go for the smaller size when mixing my Flickr photos with poetry, but since each stanza here was the result of ekphrasis, I didn’t think it would overwhelm the poem to use the medium size.

  6. Ok, Again, I crave the whole illustrated book of poems but will have to settle for downloading and hope my color printer ink holds up.

    These photos and this poetry capture both my somber November mood and my bottomless admiration. AND here in Suburban St. Louis, we have yeet to reach our endless days of ‘repetitive gestures’ We do have the bright Winter grace notes of Male Cardinals, which seem to hang around. Probably due to suburban birders with bottomless feeders.

  7. The poem and your comments want me to know more about Georg Trakl. Where would you suggest I start?

    I delighted in the melancholy feel and images, tender words icing over. Like that critter whose stay of execution is about to run out.

  8. Hi Joan – Yes, cardinals have expanded their winter range northward over the past 50 years or so in part because of birdfeeding, it’s thought. We usually have two or three pairs overwinter on the mountain.

    ..deb – The bilingual edition I have is translated by Daniel Simko: Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl. I don’t know any German, so I can’t tell you how good the translation is, but it comes with glowing blurbs from Jorie Graham, Stanley Kunitz, and James Tate.

  9. I love the way that this poem handles motion.

    The first stanza whips into the station with the sound of air brakes: November/crowding/cold/sprouts and reduced/
    repetitive/ruins and pushing/curled/mud.

    The second stanza then jerks forward with the i’s
    white/striped) and ee’s (tree/needle/green/between) of a whiney cricket.

    The third shudders (spots/down/rock/slow/hold), and leads into the coasting of the final stanza (spot/yellow/forgotten/stole/commodious parasols/down/out/snow/

    All of this lends freight (sorry) to the final lines: we expect the snow to pull us foward, but we’ve come to a standstill.

    The forgotten stole is fabulous. Was musing this morning that brown hydrangea heads resemble chenille sleeves of a chubby jacket. Not quite as elegant!

  10. Nice one, Dave. I too caught my breath when I saw the body of that cuckoo — I wonder, did the poem flow from that encounter or were you writing it in your head the whole time?

  11. Hi Julia – Thanks for the careful reading.

    beth – I don’t know the answer to that. As far as I’m concerned, the poem flowed from the pictures – all taken the same day – and the phrase “creatures of habit,” but who knows why the mind makes the choices it does. It’s not like I was conscious of any of the things Julia has just pointed out.

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