Burning Leaves

for Marianne Leppmann, at 90, 1989


The soul yearns outward

the body turns to salt, this slow pillar-making

punishment enough for looking back.

How release the ready heart?

Images flood the night

a flush of false dawn, breath of spring

beat of memory like birdwing, a letter in his hands,

“From an admirer, someone in love with you…”

(Already taken by the finest of them all,

you’re pleased he knows another thinks you

finest of them all)


New biographies unbury your oldest friends:

“girlish letters no one’s business”

“a man’s confessions of unmanly need”—

this, you will not allow. Each night, by candlelight,

you unrecord the history of a love

that’s only yours, not time’s

nor progeny’s


October, the smell of burning leaves—

letters unfolded give off his scent

fine German script imprints the air

black flakes breathe to ash


I protest—

“Maybe burn only the love letters?”


“They are all love letters.”

You have not looked shy like this since he was alive.


In 1940, you dreamed the black, devouring cloud, Europe

in flames. Joachim, the engineer, welcomed by the Turks,

traveled ahead; you, the doctor, followed with the children

Survivors. Stunned, as the pages turned.


Four score years along, once more he travelled out ahead,

destination: no known country.

Survivor, you wear his absence like a presence, trust

he waits for you, a place prepared


This time, you travel light—

grow lighter still, this slow and careful way,

each day one letter gone


I remember how the smell of burning leaves

in childhood carried the scent of winter;

it was how we prepared—a blaze, a drifting

plume of smoke,

a Festival dance—


A young girl runs across the floor

to meet her love


by Catharine Lucas




(for my son at 16)


A white string zips along my path

I clutch at grass and gravel—too late!

someone’s yellow kite hops the shoreline

            jonquil gone crazy

            staggers like a sunny drunk

            out into low rushing fog,

dips, water bound—

                                    —but no!

a gust tosses it higher to where another wind

plays it up into clear blue


I console myself—

Who knows how much of sea

how many birds and heaving whales

it will salute before its certain death?



I was always taught that kites are programmed

to plummet when the string is lost, that safe

flight depends on one who stands

rooted, pays out the line, winds it home


But this aerodynamically impossible kite

suggests a new world order:

some days, some winds

                        some kites      unanchored           soar


by Catharine Lucas

Catherine Lucas’ creative writing will appear or is forthcoming in Zone 3, Digital Paper (University of California, Berkeley), Magazine (San Francisco State University), and Asilomar Poets, 1974-1980 (Equinox Press). Her academic writing is published under the name Catharine Lucas Keech. Catherine has taught undergraduate writers, graduates in composition studies, and teachers of writing. She studied poetry at UC Berkeley in the seventies with Josephine Miles, and in the eighties at Mills College, Oakland, CA with Rosalie Moore. She participates year-round in a writing group with several published authors and recently attended a master class at Hedgebrook Writers Retreat.

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