Odes to Autumn: Poems For The Season

11.04.21

Richard Blanco joins Jim and Margery on Boston Public Radio to share poems that reflect the beauty and nuance of the season in this latest edition of “Village Voice.”

Among the poems, thoughts were shared on climate change and the “dependability of the seasons.” Blanco read discussed poems by Robert Frost, January Gill O’Neil, Alberto Ríos, and James Wright – all of which are listed below.

He also noted the Mexican holiday Día de Los Muertos, celebrated from Oct 31st – Nov 2nd.

“It’s the equivalent of Halloween but it has a whole different flavor to it. It’s really about celebration, exultation, honoring ancestors; people go to graves and bring their favorite foods and sing songs. It’s not like our Anglo-Saxon Halloween… a different take on the ghouls and the goblins.”


“Nothing Gold Can Stay”
by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“The Blower of Leaves”
by January Gill O’Neil

Always there is sky after sky waiting to fall.
A million brilliant ambers twisting into

the thinning October sun, flooding my eyes
in a curtain of color. My yard is their landing strip.

Today I bow to the power of negative space,
the beauty of what’s missing—the hard work

of yard work made harder without you,
while the stiff kiss of acorns puckers the ground.

I am a fool. Even as the red impatiens wither and brown,
they are still lovely. I feed the gaping mouths of lawn bags

with their remains. All this time I was waiting
for a heavy bough high above to crush us,

but really I was waiting for you to say enough.
It was a feeling that swirled inside me,

a dark congruence, a tempest of the blood pulsing enough,
enough. How I had mistaken it for ordinary happiness.

I can forgive the wind rustling the aging oaks,
the clusters of leaf mush trapped along the fence line,

but with you there is no forgiveness.
Only refuse. Only the lawn’s dying clover

and weeds masquerading as grass.
Nothing is ever easy or true,

except the leaves. They all fall.
Dependable as a season.

“November 2: Día de los muertos”
by Alberto Ríos 

1
It is not simply the Day of the Dead—loud, and parties.
More quietly, it is the day of my dead. The day of your dead.

These days, the neon of it all, the big-teeth, laughing skulls,
The posed calacas and Catrinas and happy dead people doing
funny things—

It’s all in good humor, and sometimes I can’t help myself: I laugh
out loud, too.
But I miss my father. My grandmother has been gone

Almost so long I can’t grab hold of her voice with my ears
anymore,
Not easily. My mother-in-law, she’s still here, still in things
packed

In boxes, her laughter on videotape, and in conversations.
Our dog died several years ago and I try to say his name

Whenever I leave the house—You take care of this house now,
I say to him, the way I always have, the way he knows.

I grew up with the trips to the cemetery and pan de muerto,
The prayers and the favorite foods, the carne asada, the beer.

But that was in the small town where my memory still lives.
Today, I’m in the big city, and that small town feels far away.

 
2
The Day of the Dead—it’s really the days of the dead. All Saints’ Day,
The first of November, also called the día de los angelitos—

Everybody thinks it’s Day of the Dead—but it’s not, not exactly.
This first day is for those who have died a saint

And for the small innocents—the criaturas­—the tender creatures
Who have been taken from us all, sometimes without a name.

To die a saint deserves its day, to die a child. The following day,
The second of November, this is for everybody else who has died

And there are so many,
A grandmother, a father, a distant uncle or lost cousin.

It is hard enough to keep track even within one’s own family.
But the day belongs to everyone, so many home altars,

So many parents gone, so many husbands, so many
Aunt Normas, so many Connies and Matildes. Countless friends.

Still, by the end of the day, we all ask ourselves the same thing:
Isn’t this all over yet?

 
3
All these dead coming after—and so close to—Halloween,
The days all start to blend,

The goblins and princesses of the miniature world
Not so different from the ways in which we imagine

Those who are gone, their memories smaller, their clothes
brighter.
We want to feed them only candy, too—so much candy

That our own mouths will get hypnotized by the sweetness,
Our own eyes dazzled by the color, our noses by the smells

The first cool breath of fall makes, a fire always burning
Somewhere out there. We feed our memories

And then, humans that we are, we just want to move quickly
away
From it all, happy for the richness of everything

If unsettled by the cut pumpkins and gourds,
The howling decorations. The marigolds—cempasúchiles—

If it rains, they stink, these fussy flowers of the dead.
Bread of the dead, day of the dead—it’s hard to keep saying the
word.

 
4
The dead:
They take over the town like beach vacationers, returning
tourists getting into everything:

I had my honeymoon here, they say, and are always full of
contagious nostalgia.
But it’s all right. They go away, after a while.

They go, and you miss them all over again.
The papel picado, the cut blue and red and green paper
decorations,

The empanadas and coconut candy, the boxes of cajeta, 
saladitos,
Which make your tongue white like a ghost’s—

You miss all of it soon enough,
Pictures of people smiling, news stories, all the fiestas, all this
exhaustion.

The coming night, the sweet breads, the bone tiredness of too
much—
Loud noise, loud colors, loud food, mariachis, even just talking.

It’s all a lot of noise, but it belongs here. The loud is to help us
not think,
To make us confuse the day and our feelings with happiness.

Because, you know, if we do think about our dead,
Wherever they are, we’ll get sad, and begin to look across at each
other.

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”
by James Wright 

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

This episode of “Village Voice” first aired on WGBH Boston Public Radio on November 1st, 2021. (Image by Bernd Schulz @unsplash)