GBMD Lia Purpura, “First Leaf”

There are actually two poems from recent New Yorkers that I want to share, but for the moment I’ll stick to the more recent and most seasonally apt one. If a dozen other garden bloggers already  posted this, my apologies for being out of touch. (I’m still getting online only intermittently–more intermittently than I’d realized; I can’t believe it’s a month since I’ve posted! Well, the garden season here has ended so precipitously that I should have more time soon.)

I’m always curious, when I post a poem, whether readers like it or not, and why, so please feel free to post a comment.

First Leaf

by Lia Purpura
The New Yorker October 5, 2009

That yellow
was a falling off,
a fall
for once I saw
it could
in its stillness
still be turned from,
it was not
yet ferocious,
its hold drew me,
was a shiny switchplate
in the otherwise dark,
rash, ongoing green,
a green so hungry
for light and air that
part gave up,
went alone,
chose to leave,
and by choosing
got seen.


That first yellow leaf–usually a whole cluster–usually appears here sometime in mid-August, irrespective of the weather. So it was this year, even though we had a September as hot as most Julys. Someone told me that the trees react not to weather but to the length of days. That would explain why now, after two weeks of winter weather, the trees still hang onto their leaves, tenacious and suspicious.

4 Responses to GBMD Lia Purpura, “First Leaf”

  1. I liked the poem. It made the traditional yellow into something new and surprising. A poem should do that.

  2. Millicent Caliban

    I am not a gardener, but I loved this poem when I read it in the New Yorker. The yellow leaf “chose to leave” and chose “embellishment.” Chose not to be the “hungry green”. That is the choice of a poet, whose reward is to “get seen.”

  3. Two newcomers! How interesting. Welcome, both.
    Mary, I’m with you on what a poem should do, even though the word “should” always makes me nervous. Your description also reminds me of that old idea about how a good metaphor works: when you hear it, there’s a moment of surprise, and then you say, Ah yes, of course.
    It’s not about gardening anyway, this poem, is it, Millicent? Your remarks (beautifully put!) took me back to the poem, where I realized how strong its adjectives are—against that most basic precept of good writing, not to rely on adjectives. But these—
    ferocious, rash, hungry—these do real work. (However did you happen to stop by a gardening blog? Glad you did…)

  4. I will be me and say I didn’t like it. The short line lengths made the poem feel too fast, and too terse, and put too much pressure on images which I thought were too standard and didn’t hold up as well. IMHO. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *