Burning Leaves

Louise Glück

 
 

The fire burns up into the clear sky,
eager and furious, like an animal trying to get free,
to run wild as nature intended—

When it burns like this,
leaves aren’t enough—it’s
acquisitive, rapacious,

refusing to be contained, to accept limits—

There’s a pile of stones around it.
Past the stones, the earth’s raked clean, bare—

Finally the leaves are gone, the fuel’s gone,
the last flames burn upwards and sidewards—

Concentric rings of stones and gray earth
circle a few sparks;
the farmer stomps on these with his boots.

It’s impossible to believe this will work—
not with a fire like this, those last sparks
still resisting, unfinished,
believing they will get everything in the end

since it is obvious they are not defeated,
merely dormant or resting, though no one knows
whether they represent life or death.


From The Yale Review, April 2008, issue 96.2.

Image: Detail from Frederic Edwin Church, Cloud Study, 1870–80, brush and oil on cardboard. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.