Maybe you can’t see it. But it’s there. A leaf. A single leaf floating through the air on its way to death and decay.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s beautiful when it leaves that tree and then it’s beautiful when it’s falling because it’s just the bleak, gray sky and the brilliant red leaf and for a brief moment they make poetry together.
It makes you want to grab that leaf out of the sky before its plummet is complete, just snatch it from the air, bring it in the house and do something with it. Put it in between the pages of a book of sonnets. Tack it up on your bedroom wall. Hold it in your clenched hand for a while. Save it from its fate, from a sentence of being strewn among the other leaves like it, piled up against the curb, just waiting to crackle, snap and die.
At least it dies with its own, right? It doesn’t die pressed between verses of poetry, flattened and alone. It doesn’t die a prolonged death, falling apart little by little, flakes of red scattered and lost in the piles of the bedroom rug. It doesn’t suffocate in your hand. It dies as it lived, among those who know what it is like to live a fleeting, if glorious, life.
You stare at it flipping around in the wind, this solo traveler, this lonely survivor. Because you think in poems and song lyrics and words rarely expressed out loud, you imagine that leaf as you, imagine you know how it feels, floating there alone, free falling its way to its end. A death spiral. Something about it speaks to you, grabs in your soul and makes you cry out the way you think the leaf would cry out if it could. In your head, a thousand lines are immediately composed about life and longing and solitude and the beauty to be found in all of that, but also of the despair to be found in beauty.
Or maybe not. Maybe you’re not poetic or romantic or full of flowery, passionate ideals. You think of the leaf as nothing more than a leaf and its descent from tree to grave is nothing to you, nothing more than nature taking the same course it takes every day. Life, death, whatever happens in between.
Until one day it catches you off guard and the memory you didn’t know you kept creeps up on you in the middle of a sexual encounter. You’re just about to scream out a deity’s name when your brain catches hold of that memory and a sudden bout of regret and sadness washes over you. You feel empty inside, so empty, so barren, so alone. You are floating in the darkness and you are terrified of what happens when you hit the ground. You push yourself away from your partner, away from everything. You go off by yourself somewhere and cry. The next day you have no idea what the hell that was all about but whatever it was keeps coming back to you at odd moments during the course of your life.
It comes back to you the same way it comes back to the one who stuck the leaf in a book. The same way it comes back to the one who watched with a heart both bursting and breaking. It comes over you when you least expect it. The floating, the drifting, the trying to make sense of how a space so vast can hold you in so tight a constraint.
And then you let go. Until next time.
One time it will be the last.