Raking Leaves by Beth Copeland

Beth Copeland has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2022 Poetry Contest

Raking Leaves

Dry oak leaves are riddled with BB-sized shot-holes.
Is it an encoded warning from the universe, a map of stars,
a chart of scorched sun spots? They remind me of paper rolls
used on player pianos or of old hole-punched cards we once
fed into huge computers. Are these holes a score of whole
notes played as November wind whistles through trees?

I think about the holes as I rake leaves away from the walls
of the house before they rot and mold. The heat pump hums as
I push brown leaves down the hillside into woods with an old
rake with broken green plastic prongs found on my father’s land
in Tennessee. I think of spiral notebooks I trashed thirty years ago,
of poems written on blue-lined pages and wonder if the holes

are an encryption of the trees’ elegies and odes and if my words
have made any difference in the world or if they’re like the leaves
I’m raking into a pile under pine saplings. Will the poem composed
in my head as I work decompose into the dirt before I jot it down?
Why haven’t I done more to save our burning planet? I’ve turned off
lights, recycled paper, cans, and plastic, driven a hybrid, given up

meat—but all that stuff’s nothing but one hole on one fallen leaf.
Still, I’m grateful to be strong enough to rake all morning without
stopping, grateful for the photograph my son sent of laughing Cashel
shuffling through gold leaves at the park in Chicago, and I wonder,
When he’s my age, will there still be trees? Will my grandson rake
leaves on a brisk November day and ponder what shot-holes mean?

brown limb of oak leaves
Pin Oaks by Bernard Spragg. CC license.

Beth Copeland
Beth Copeland is the author of Selfie with Cherry (Glass Lyre Press, 2022); Blue Honey, 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize winner; Transcendental Telemarketer (BlazeVOX, 2012); and Traveling through Glass, 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award winner. She owns and operates Tiny Cabin, Big Ideas™, a retreat for writers in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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