Needing one, I invented her —
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves,
and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸,
and we’d travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker —
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish —
and all day we’d travel.
At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;
or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;
or she’d hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,
this bone dream,
this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
– Mary Oliver –
While never naming nor summoning a great-great aunt from among the trees, my earliest memory is of gazing up into the spring green canopies of maple and chestnut, where placed in my buggy to nap, I’d be lulled to sleep by their fluttering leaves, the play of dappled light, and the hum of cars passing by. Those maples surrounded my great gran’s home on the street hemming the mighty Niagara River, while the chestnuts, with their lacy pyramids of pink and white blossoms and glossy brown nuts hidden behind green prickly shells, held court over the fence and in the backyard of our main floor apartment, it, too, on that same river street.
A small Canadian town, across the river from the bustle of a big American city, both trees and river became my touchstones, providing a grounding for the inner and outer bustle. It’s only as I’ve grown older that I realized the necessity of that gift to my well being, that I would have known them to be, claimed them to be my friends.
While reading this poem, wishing I’d had the imagination then to have conjured a friend made out of leaves, maybe it was simply a matter of being inarticulate and diffuse. Maybe imagination was always at play, given my natural affinity for always noticing trees as I walk with Annie, or ride shotgun, and knowing that sitting in my yard surrounded by trees has been healing post surgery and illness. Maybe too, I’ve had my own Aunt Leaf all this time, inviting me to wander the world, and walk in circles wide.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
5 thoughts on “Aunt Leaf”
Psithurism sang you to sleep. It can have that effect on me too. I love how the trees glisten at times, like emeralds hung on branches. I love how the leaves create a soft Spring mist before they open. And I love to watch that vibrant green gradually wane to something softer and more mature as Summer has its way, and then Fall.
Thanks for giving me leafy thoughts.
Thank you for sharing that wonderful poem. I’d not read that one before.
Nor had I, Annie. Thanks for reading.