Autumn’s Signal by Terrie Joplin

Autumn’s Signal

Oh yes, I see them—there at the utmost
branch of the maple in the strip between
our yard and our neighbors’—their vibrant
cloak of green just beginning to fade, their
crimson fingernails flicking their tips
against the sky’s cerulean cheek. I see
the reddest leaf. I can’t help watching it
sway, its stem still flexible, color-fed. My
eyes water under the brightness. My throat
closes. I remember when, after twenty-four
years, you said you were unhappy, and tears
sprang from my every pore as if I could
water your love for me, flood our pain, as if
they could absolve my sarcastic slights,
your impatient shoutings, our warped pleasure
in knowing the mortal damage—our tender
shoots dying in darkness. I wrote in journals,
in letters, but the sugars and chlorophyll
of that leaf still flowed red—my anger and
guilt needing to recede, to let the stem harden
over like it does, sealing in the vibrant scarlet.
Then, an amnesty—a bending toward our roots’
pale warmth—our pledge to sheathe our words,
feather our tones, tilt a smile to the other, while
making the week’s grocery list or handing over
the evening cups of Darjeeling. Eight months
of waving in light—of curling around our best
selves in their slow, unwinding gestations—
a set of seasons I’ve watched in this yard,
looking at our full-limbed maple—before
I could paint the words to offer, just like
that topmost crimson leaf to the breeze—


Terrie Joplin has taught language and literature in public schools in Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina. She is a member of the Poetry Craft Collective and currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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