Next Line, Please

Leaves of Presence

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By David Lehman

November 1, 2016


 

What a plethora of wonderful couplets materialized in response to this week’s prompt: a seasonally apt couplet, the only requirement of which is that the second line must end with “leaf,” “leaves,” or “leave.”

I have selected eight of the couplets and combined them into one collaborative poem, which begins with my own couplet, reflecting my love of wordplay, of songs (“Love Me or Leave Me” with lyrics by Gus Kahn, as sung by Doris Day, and “Greensleeves”), and of Walt Whitman. The second line inverts his title “Leaves of Grass”:

David Lehman

Leave me or love me or sing or singe my green sleeves.
I celebrate my soul, myself, my grass of leaves.

Elizabeth Solzburg’s couplet follows, bringing us into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

As daylight shrivels, Autumn weaves
earth’s blanket with bright threads of leaves.

Angela Ball dons a Halloween costume:

The Cat Lady, sheathed in fantastic red, was the familiar of phantoms.
Tabbies roiled at her feet; perched in her hair, a lambent leaf.

Wit in the acerb manner of Dorothy Parker is underrated. Note the double meaning of “conceive” in Michael C. Rush’s cunning couplet:

Winter’s cold, and many cunningly will conceive
a plan for warmth. Next fall—maternity leave!

Paul Michelsen also sets a high value on wit in lines that recollect our original parents and the fig leaves they used after they fell:

According to some theologians we are all Adams and Eves
regardless of how we identify, or what’s beneath our leaves.

Daryl Sznyter locates Adam and Eve in the bedroom. Her use of the verb “rake” is noteworthy:

your fitted bed sheets crunch under my hips as you
rake my body like children outside weeping leaves

Jane Keats introduces a strong note of pathos:

Even if you should leave,
would I remain steadfast, and believe?

Finally, our poem ends with the perfect symmetry that Sasha A. Palmer proffers: 

Leaves fall
fall leaves

Here, then, is “Grass of Leaves”:

Leave me or love me or sing or singe my green sleeves.
I celebrate my soul, myself, my grass of leaves.   (DL)

As daylight shrivels, Autumn weaves
earth’s blanket with bright threads of leaves. (Elizabeth Solsburg)

The Cat Lady, sheathed in fantastic red, was the familiar of phantoms.
Tabbies roiled at her feet; perched in her hair, a lambent leaf. (Angela Ball)

Winter’s cold, and many cunningly will conceive
a plan for warmth. Next fall—maternity leave! (Michael C.Rush)

According to some theologians we are all Adams and Eves
regardless of how we identify, or what’s beneath our leaves. (Paul Michelsen)

Your fitted bed sheets crunch under my hips as you
rake my body like children outside weeping leaves. (Daryl Sznyter)

Even if you should leave ,
would I remain steadfast, and believe? (Jane Keats)

Leaves fall
fall leaves.   (Sasha A. Palmer)

Congratulations to the winners—and heartfelt thanks to all for your ingenuity and skill.


For next week, why don’t we take an aphorism by Stanislaus Lec (“I prefer the sign ‘No Entry’ to the one that says ‘No Exit’”) and use it as the epigraph for a brief poem, 10 lines or fewer.

Deadline: Sunday, November 6, midnight in any time zone.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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