Leaves by G.M. Palmer

Love is a rose but you’d better not pick it,
It only grows when it’s on the vine.
A handful of thorns and you’ll know you’ve missed it,
You lose your love when you say the word “mine.”

 

I, for you, am nothing: silent, profane,
trying to rise to your sacred language
above myself, above this vulgar light,
like the falling leaves that have only now
just arrived, this first cold night in November.

Lisi sits next to me in her green Fiat.
Because the leaves are changing she lets me drive.
It is snowing in Asheville and we are
gone on our way, through Savannah and Charleston,
a wayward path to find pure driven snow,
and I am dreaming as the road begins
to melt away into a bumblebee
blending of stars and stripes, the brilliant moon
a face and a door has no expression
as Savannah creeps closer, its gentility
and heat and houses stifled by November,
the pageants and balls exploding into
the Winter rush of popularity.

The sunrise in Savannah is blinding,
shining like the ancient plantation homes.
Lisi laughs, and smiles bright like windblown leaves
in Autumn’s waning days.  We pull off at
the river and feed ourselves with each other
but Lisi cannot live on love alone
and so we find a hole in Savannah
with greasy eggs and poor sausage gravy.
Lisi loads everything with salt and I
have blackberry jelly and black coffee.
and we run out without leaving a tip,
heading out to Bonaventure Cemetery.

We sit down on Aiken’s grave, voyagers
of the cosmos and the not known, Lisi
sings “Skylark” when walk past Johnny’s tomb.
I feel so Southern today as I take
Lisi’s arm in mine and kiss her shoulder.
Her sundress is too thin for November
and when we leave she is sweatered and warm.
Walking out of the garden of death
we weave around the ancient parts of town
memory motivates everything here
and even the children have a sense of history.

As we leave this history of remembrance
driving to Charleston, I’m not sure whose hands
are guiding me down this highway at all.

The trees and Georgia drift by and the dreams
begin to drift in as I then drift out
of consciousness.  By the time I’m awake
we are on a beach deep in the sunset
and Lisi is sitting on the car’s hood,
listening to the ocean and watching
the sun set over Georgia, now purple
and magestic with the universal
painting of chaos and the face of God.

Changing clothes I feel cleansed and I offer
out my hand in a dervish dance to her.
She accepts and spins, we fall together
like a bundle of fallen leaves piled for
a child’s light laughter and spread out by leaps
to be gathered in and scattered again.

As the sun disappears we drive away
silent, beautiful and bringing out stars.
We are heading down the highway to reach
Charleston tonight, the night’s blanket
bundled around us we lie back as far
as we can, huddled together for warmth
in the beautiful, crisp, Carolina clean air.

Throughout the night we freeze in the Fiat,
free falling down the road we are singing,
both awake with wet and cold shining stars
and mesmerized by the constellations.
My thoughts stall as the visions of Lisi
and the stars behind her fade into one.

My black slumber is startled into sight
by the explosion of the interstate.
We land in the middle of things, shaken
and terrified by the sudden bursting
breach of the night calm by reality.

 

The blown tire now replaced we leave
but with the breaking of my dream,
my eyes won’t laugh anymore tonight,
falling into the sinking heart of light,
violent darkness, loud with everything,
the road is too quiet to drown it out
and I scream with the radio singing
and Lisi only smiles and sings along.
My terror, not lightened by her soft voice
only grows farther and farther away
into the deep, deep, haunted holy night.

It is a strange time in the dark morning
when we reach Charleston; its Southern grandeur
silent in the cold night’s absence of light.

On our way to the colored streets and houses
we fall asleep on some side-street, our bones
worn tired by driving and by dreaming,
we crash until moved along by a cop.

Newly rested we wander the streets
looking for good breakfast and good graveyards
that spring new life from what death has brought down;
death is no door, only a shallow
line marked in sand by shaking human hands.

We play with stuffed animals and puppets
amusing ourselves with strings of childhood
but the day wears on and Asheville calls us,
North Carolina leaves falling from trees
covering the mountaintops with laughter
and so we leave Charleston, lady of the South,
proper and holy in her make-up kits,
freshly painted and all too bright for the Fall.

The roads between Charleston and Asheville are small,
filled with numbers and signposts and old men
whittling on porches in their wooden rockers
They wave at us in our convertible
as we fly past, a bright green streak of youth
turning and twisting in the growing gnarled
mountains of the ancient Carolinas.

At a gas station I try to call you
but the phone is disconnected, like me,
worn out from use and finally just cut off.

Lisi returns, ready for the drive to come.
She is driving and I am watching the sky,
maring the cirrus clouds high above,
feathered strokes of weather, waiting for change.

We stop in Clemson to see Drew Crawford
just before he leaves for home, Florida.
Drew lets tired Lisi crash on the floor,
he and I barbecue like good old times
drinking IBC rootbeer from bottles
frosty and frigid in our freezing hands
and we warm ourselves by the propane fire.

The burgers eaten and old times caught
we shuffle for something to talk about,
in the differences that divide us now.
so we sit and we drink Lagavulin.
Sated and relaxed we talk of women.

The morning comes and Asheville is close now;
and the television promises snow.

The mountains and the hours and the roads
fall like leaves from our path and as we laugh
we leave South Carolina far behind
Lisi’s first glimpse of the changes of God,
the whims of approaching Winter tearing
down everything to be rebuilt in Spring.

Asheville—Twenty Miles passes and I smile,
nearing a new chance to rebuild myself,
to relive what I’ve done and start again;
to show someone else what happiness is.

The streets of Asheville are welcoming us,
but the skies are not filled out with snowing.
Lisi is disappointed with the weather
but I am confident in November
and as I search the map for my mountain
I tell Lisi that it will surely snow
and we will be covered with purity
today, laughing like children in leaf piles.

As we drive into the camp of my youth
I remember when, seven years ago,
Loyal, Tommy, and I climbed this hill,
this child mountain and slid down in the snow.

We race up the same footpath that I walked
seven years before, her hand enclosed in
mine, and no one around or close
except us, giddy with the Autumn cold.
Lisi dances and is tossed in my arms spinning,
she lays on the ground just below the cross
exhausted with the mountains and cold and joy.

Finally, the snow begins to fall down,
we are full with each other, flowing out
into the North Carolina Autumn,
cold and warm in the air and in our hearts.
We are holding each other suddenly now;
Lisi looks at me not knowing that the
impossible indelibility
of life she is certain of will fall
like laughing leaves of Fall before Winter,
leaving the bare and beautiful trees like
this mountain we share, enclosed together,
and I have to hold her, singing, dancing,
bowing before the gift of life she gives;
closing her mouth as she speaks we are one.

Lisi looks at me; the least touch engulfs us.
Her eyes are the rings of the Sun’s eclipse
and a rainstorm and the moon’s soft halo
and I know what is to come but she stops, and kisses
me on this Carolina mountain
just like seven years ago, only now
with seven years of memory behind.

In the Fiat it is snowing and cold
and we will not ever put the top up,
crazed and enlightened on our journey
we realize we have nowhere left to go
and so we rent a room for the evening.

Lisi, released into dreams, is peaceful
and I am restless. I dial your number
but no one is home except the machine.

I fall into fitful sleep thinking of you
and my search for the things I remember.

I am in the city of burnt endings;
empty, cold, and desolate, a dreamscape
of a tortured and lonely tired child.
I run in madness as far as I can
to escape this edge of America;
running towards what I think is sunshine
and fleeing this dark and unholy night
towards the light that I think is you
in this empty city. I am sweating
in the wind and the snow, bundled up tight
within myself and frozen in my eyes.
Cocytus, I am ten million faces
all silent in God’s black face where music
blasts at me across frozen streets and cars
buried in snow, searching, and memory;
what becomes you can never become me
so we are apart and I am crying,
tears freezing in the cold and nothing  falling,
no one laughing and everything leaving;
the snow just hangs there, frozen and static.
Static electricity welling up
within my soles and charging my body
from the street, sparks lighting nothing, no one,
not burning, not rising to God or to me,
just street, snow, and this frozen Inferno
so far from Purgatory’s stormy shore.

Like Ulysses, I sail where I should not,
searching for you, for your soul’s expression;
the struggle is always within the art.
My heart, an anchor tied tight to your world
feels out among the ruins and lampposts
peppering the streets of this town with light
like silent sinners ignoring a pilgrim
their light shuns me in shadow wrapping me
in the chill of ignorance and despair.
My heart, discordant, finds nothing
of you, lonely in the wasteland streets of
Eliot and Dante, cities of Hell
far from God, far from me, and finally
so very far from you.  It starts to rain.

 

The streets begin to wash away the dirt
of the city, children step out into
the streets, splashing in their wet galoshes
in the memory of my summer days
as a child in the sunshine untainted
by the world and by our America,
its flags and schoolhouses dripping and wet,
plugged in and out in the white noise of nonsense
like the droplets falling down and laughing,
leaves from great clouds of trees in the sky
cluttering the streets, washing everything
clean and flooding the broken world anew
as my heart searches through the rainstorm
for what my memory records as you.

I find myself in the doorposts at four.
The sun is still far from rising up
and Lisi, silent, is still fast asleep.

I climb into the bed still thinking of you,
still trapped in the memories of past days,
still trapped by all these snowstorms inside.
I finish the rest of the whisky from Drew
and try my hardest to pass out senseless.

Lisi wakes me up somewhere around noon
I need to go up to New York Michael,
Aaron’s there now, can you take me please?
Lisi offers to pay me but I stop her,
surprising her and making her smile wide,
knowing you’re there alone in Rochester
and ready to leave this journey, to start again.

Lisi is amazed that I am smiling
as we leave Asheville; in our little tryst
we have forgotten the ones that we love,
we glossed over the truth of things,
failing and falling and laughing all the way.

The little green Fiat is speeding now,
not speeding away but flying to you,
growing bright like the sunrise with each mile.

 

I want to tie down everyone I love,
everyone I know, seat belted in tight
to me along for the ride and for the storm,
spread out and planned with maps and astrolabes,
our courses charted exactly on life’s road,
a safe bet but I know this cannot be;
there is no roadmap atlas to Heaven.

We are driving north but it’s getting
warmer as we ascend and now it is
raining down on the little green Fiat,
an ark for this holy journey of two.

There are three states between here and New York
but we will not stop in any of them.
Lisi is too worried and I am too tired,
I pray as Lisi is sleeping,
the verdant Fiat of Gethsemane
surrounding my sins like the song that lives
on the radio.  I have turned it up
as loud as it will go, crying, praying
and driving far too fast for the highway
at night in the rain to be singing so,
praying and hoping that God can still hear.

The song fades out but I am still driving,
just five minutes is not near enough time
for my passion, my sacrifice for you.

On the first straightaway I close my eyes
and try to reign in all my damning thoughts.
I am too hard on all I touch, pressing down
with the astronomic weight of a star.

It is no wonder I crush everything.

Driving through the night and going too fast
we are in New York at the midnight hour
the roads are as crowded as my thoughts are.

We are in Manhattan at one the morning.
We park in the best place we can find
and hope that it is still there tomorrow.
Lisi is releasing the Fiat to me
so I can get to Rochester, to you.

We call Aaron at two, meet up by three,
fall asleep at four. I dream of five oceans,
seeing six signs pass by the seventh hour.

Any progression stops and I wake
confused and anxious, ready to see you
just to get everything out of my mind.
Lisi and Aaron are out in Greenwich
I have been here before and spun the box
and haggled with the Rolex street vendors,
I have walked through Chinatown just as all
the fish of the morning were delivered;
I have played piano at F.A.O.
so I just grab the keys and leave town.

Between New York City and Rochester
there are fields of beauty and I must stop
for a look at the white flowering
of these snowy meadows.  In my rush to leave
I have missed the bright snows of the morning
and only now, in the middle of things,
do I finally see the morning’s present.

I do the only thing I can; I cry.

I cry because I can’t see anymore
I cry because it is so cold out here
and the slush angel that I am making
keeps falling back in on itself, falling
like me, left from my laughter and my hope.

I am at your door now, only thinking
of the Neil Young line that rings in my head,
you lose your love if you say the word “mine.”
You open the door and don’t know what to say,
and you hold me wondering why I’m here.
I say something about a fireplace
and you notice that I am soaking wet,
nearly frozen in the New York Autumn.

It is Fall and all I want to do is fall
into your arms as you gather my clothes;
things are strange but we are contented now,
for at least a moment, holding ourselves
by each other and touching hands and mouths
in front of the beautiful fireplace
we burn together as we burn apart.

If only I were God, my journey would end
in your arms and yours in mine, both entwined.

Radiantly exhausted, I can sleep
for at least one night at home and with you.

I am spinning in a holy Sufi dance
on the lawn of a University
in England full with bells and white roses
and I fly into the rings of sky
seeing green and blue and my purity
and I know that I have died in  heaven
and that everything is right now with me,
flying and spinning above my eternal home
and as love propels me through the bright sky
I know that God is now open to me
but as I spin wildly above the growing clouds,
storms creep up from across the ocean
and I know that everything can be closed.

I look up to see the clock face at one;
you are still holding me so I can smile,
seeing you happy in silent slumber.

I am sitting on a dirty, stone bridge
in Arkansas that covers two train tracks.
I am looking west, a train is coming
and it will run into me on this bridge
and I will fall into oblivion
and the train is coming.  It is coming
and I can feel myself already fall
as it screams its approach my screams respond
and as the conductor passes under
he pulls the steam whistle right below me
and the heat scorches my cold screaming face
and the train goes on loudly without me,
pressing into the night with loads of coal.

And now I see that I am still alive
and I laugh out loud, falling out of sleep
and into you, the clock hands say three
and you are still so very beautiful
and you are still here laying down with me.

 

I open my eyes wide underwater
and I am searching for you on the water,
waiting to be devoured whole by me;
I can feel you moving and I swim faster,
out of control and flying through schoolfish
to get to you, climbing water like hills
and mounting always closer in to you;
I can see the sparkle on the waves now,
pulsing, pushing, pulling myself further
I explode into air, you in my mouth
bleeding and torn and so satisfying
and as I land talons of fishermen
dig into my flesh and pull you from me;
rescued and distant, you heal while I die.

Ripped from sleeping it is now past five
and I kiss your head with my murder mouth,
pull you in and close my eyes, tight this time
and try to sleep, awaiting the morning.

We get up around noon and lounge around,
but I know that it is time to leave you.
I’ll be back soon I promise and believe.

I take Lisi’s Fiat and drive away.
I’m heading to Niagara, to the edge
of something that I can now almost see,
the roads that have led me from Florida,
my home and family, to you, my home
and family.  I do not understand
and so I drive to the end of this land,
America, my home, the beautiful.

Niagara roars with the fury of life,
countless tears of the universe falling,
pouring themselves out towards oblivion
and resurrection, reincarnation.

 

I park the Fiat, leaving the top down,
and walk to the rails at the edge of the falls
feeling the icy spray on my warm face.
I am laughing like a fallen angel
and leaving everything far, far behind;
my soul and my being are in control
and I am the king of my last journey,
wind rushing against me I am flying,
everything now is opened to me,
the world is in bloom in November’s Fall
and I am a flower ready to spring,
no longer fearing the death of all things
for I know that we fall and are reborn,
the storm of falling is the only pain
and my life, like these wonderful falls
falls and leaves and laughs, and lives forever.

About G.M. Palmer

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