A Rake[r]’s Regress

William Graddy

Yesterday marked the second of what is usually a three-day annual battle at 5259 Wright Terrace between the living and the dead: my body and leaf-fall. Poets both skeptical and believing have written hauntingly about the beauty autumn leaves bring and the barrenness their absence leaves behind (“Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang”; “Márgarét, áre you gríeving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?”), but, rake in hand and ankle deep in summer’s remains, I just pant, sweat, and for the following day or so limp. Worse, I’m reminded in all sorts of ways that the line separating the principals in this contest diminishes every year: I die a little more, feel gravity’s pull toward earth a little more insistently, each November.

Resigned, I set my jaw and swallow, but notice an aftertaste of envy. Trees go far more gently into that good night than we poor humans can. The leaves, as if to spite me, keep their vivid color and crisp shape fall after fall as I grow grayer and fatter month by month.

Once stirred, Resentment ogles Self-pity, and ugly thoughts start to multiply. As soon as I make a little headway, rake a couple of nice mounds for Monday’s street crews, the leaves call in allies: winds—especially the ones that can’t decide which way to blow—and rain. Not the nice soaking kind that gives even compulsive souls license to retreat, drink coffee, and read. No, some sort of pale, half-hearted cousin, too distinct to be mist, too faint to make puddles—a Uriah Heep in the Realm of Moisture. And all I can summon by way of support is a splash of liniment and that onespeed leaf blower I bought for four dollars at a rummage sale this summer.

Fortunately, a sound somewhere breaks this reverie, which would soon have had me changing my postal code from Skokie to the Land of Uz and looking around for potsherds. I put down my rake and check the time. Hmm. One-thirty. I can watch Dr. Oz while I have my kale salad and flaxseed smoothie for lunch. Besides, the leaves are organic. Maybe I just won’t bother raking the rest of them.

Come to think of it, I could enlarge the lawn next year and spare myself this mess if I just… And if I had the stumps ground, passersby would never know…

Is that the sun trying to come out? Let’s see, I bought that kale over a week ago, so it’s probably gone by now. I should have used one of those plastic extender bags. I know; maybe I’ll just order in a hoagie and fries.

William Graddy resides in Skokie, Illinois, and taught literature and writing at Trinity College in Deerfield from 1973 through 2011.