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Poetry readings: Names of Horses


Poetry readings: Kicking the Leaves
Donald Hall Poet
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Kicking The Leaves. This is a poem I wrote in Michigan, just before Jane and I moved to... to the house in New Hampshire. And I knew we were going to come and camp out at any rate, and the poem really seems to know that I am going to be moving in here and living here. It's a kind of farewell to the old life, looking forward to the new.

Kicking the leaves, October, as we walk home together

from the game, in Ann Arbor,

on a day the color of soot, rain in the air;

I kick at the leaves of maples,

reds of seventy different shades, yellows

like old paper; and poplar leaves, fragile and pale;

and elm leaves, flags of a doomed race.

I kick at the leaves, making a sound I remember

as the leaves swirl upward from my boot,

and flutter; and I remember

Octobers walking to school in Connecticut,

wearing corduroy trousers that swished

with a sound like leaves; and a Sunday buying

a cup of cider at a roadside stand

on a dirt road in New Hampshire; and kicking the leaves,

autumn 1955 in Massachusetts, knowing

my father would die when the leaves were gone.


Each fall in New Hampshire, on the farm

where my mother grew up, a girl in the country,

my grandfather and grandmother

finished the autumn work, taking the last vegetables in

from the cold fields, canning, storing roots and apples

in the cellar under the kitchen. Then my grandfather

raked leaves against the house

as the final chore of autumn.

One November I drove up from college to see them.

We pulled big rakes, as we did when we hayed in summer,

pulling the leaves against the granite foundations

around the house, on every side of the house,

and then, to keep them in place, we cut spruce boughs

and laid them across the leaves,

green on red, until the house

was tucked up, ready for snow

that would freeze the leaves in tight, like a stiff skirt.

Then we puffed through the shed door,

taking off boots and overcoats, slapping our hands,

and sat in the kitchen, rocking, and drank

black coffee my grandmother made,

three of us sitting together, silent, in gray November.


One Saturday when I was little, before the war,

my father came home at noon from his half day at the office

and wore his Bates sweater, black on red,

with the crossed hockey sticks on it, and raked beside me

in the back yard, and tumbled in the leaves with me,

laughing, and carried me, laughing, my hair full of leaves,

to the kitchen window

where my mother could see us, and smile, and motion

to set me down, afraid I would fall and be hurt.


Kicking the leaves today, as we walk home together

from the game, among crowds of people

with their bright pennants, as many and bright as leaves,

my daughter’s hair is the red-yellow color

of birch leaves, and she is tall like a birch,

growing up, fifteen, growing older; and my son

flamboyant as maple, twenty,

visits from college, and walks ahead of us, his step

springing, impatient to travel

the woods of the earth. Now I watch them

from a pile of leaves beside this clapboard house

in Ann Arbor, across from the school

where they learned to read,

as their shapes grow small with distance, waving,

and I know that I

diminish, not them, as I go first

into the leaves, taking

the way they will follow, Octobers and years from now.


This year the poems came back, when the leaves fell.

Kicking the leaves, I heard the leaves tell stories,

remembering and therefore looking ahead, and building

the house of dying. I looked up into the maples

and found them, the vowels of bright desire.

I thought they had gone forever

while the bird sang I love you I love you

and shook its black head

from side to side, and its red eye with no lid,

through years of winter, cold

as the taste of chickenwire, the music of cinderblock.


Kicking the leaves, I uncover the lids of graves.

My grandfather died at seventy-seven, in March

when the sap was running; and I remember my father

twenty years ago,

coughing himself to death at fifty-two in the house

in the suburbs. Oh, how we flung

leaves in the air! How they tumbled and fluttered around us,

like slowly cascading water, when we walked together

in Hamden, before the war, when Johnson’s Pond

had not surrendered to the houses, the two of us

hand in hand, and in the wet air the smell of leaves


and in six years I will be fifty-two.


Now I fall, now I leap and fall

to feel the leaves crush under my body, to feel my body

buoyant in the ocean of leaves, the night of them,

night heaving with death and leaves, rocking like the ocean.

Oh, this delicious falling into the arms of leaves,

into the soft laps of leaves!

Face down, I swim into the leaves, feathery,

breathing the acrid odor of maple, swooping

in long glides to the bottom of October –

where the farm lies curled against winter, and soup steams

the breath of onion and carrot

onto damp curtains and windows; and past the windows

I see the tall bare maple trunks and branches, the oak

with its few brown feathery remnant leaves,

and the spruce trees, holding their green.

Now I leap and fall, exultant, recovering

from death, on account of death, in accord with the dead,

the smell and taste of leaves again,

and the pleasure, the only long pleasure, of taking a place

in the story of leaves.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Kicking The Leaves, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ann Arbor, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Bates College, October, Hamden, Johnson’s Pond

Duration: 7 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008