the leathery leaves

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This poem in its simplicity gets me every time. It cuts right to that vaguely poignant but pity-filled realization that dawns when some variation of the following occurs. Invariably, some character from the long-distant past, about whom one was whipped into a frenzied lather so very many years ago but whom one has almost entirely forgotten in life’s ensuing whirlwind, reappears. In the ‘old days’, this character had been aloof, cool, compartmentalizing. I belonged only to one sliver of his life, for example. And I would agonize. This character never really cared, or at least never showed it then.

This character appears again long after being rinsed away, eroded from conscious memory. And suddenly in this twilight between the last moments of clinging to some semblance of youth and the outer edges of middle age, this character remembers me in alarming detail, which I can only regard with some curiosity and dispassionate distance. I’ve never believed in living in the past or revisiting it, although the way this poem is written cleverly ignites mild nostalgia without making its narrator succumb to it.

A Woman Meets an Old Lover
Denise Levertov

‘He with whom I ran hand in hand
kicking the leathery leaves down Oak Hill Path
thirty years ago

appeared before me with anxious face, pale,
almost unrecognized, hesitant,
lame.

He whom I cannot remember hearing laugh out loud
but see in mind’s eye smiling, self-approving,
wept on my shoulder.

He who seemed always
to take and not give, who took me
so long to forget,

remembered everything I had so long forgotten.’

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