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Virgil

The Squirrels Through The Autumn Leaves

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
This was my poem in the Autumn poetry contest. It didn't get a lot of votes so I'm wondering what you thought. I've got some mixed feelings myself. That openning stanza may be a little weak, perhaps not engaging enough. But my real qualms are with the listing of the gravestones names and dates. I tried to replicate the feeling of walking through a cemetery, where you're captured by name after name and feel the pathos of their lives. Not sure it transfered in the poem. I suspect that one just glossed right over the listing. I would love to know your thoughts.


The Squirrels Through The Autumn Leaves

and the little blackbirds poke and peck at the ground,
flit through the tombstones,
the acorns dropping as the wind gusts,
the squirrels foraging beneath the fallen leaves,
the leaves brown and yellow, morning sunlight
casting shadows toward my feet.

Morning hunger, the cool air,
the little critters in a dash, up a tree, down a tree
ferreting feed, and suddenly one upright with a host
between its palms.

Walking through the cemetery
the granite faces lay across the field
like fallen leaves, inscribed with life’s little figures,
birth, death, the summer of their lives
now dropped, buried into the bog of time,
the still autumn of silence.

Beneath the ground the rest goes on,
the flesh wilts, goes dim, dwindles down,
bones slowly change color, pewter grey,
because all gold is really just sand.


Faces stand out.

William Toth
1897 – 1946
Devoted Husband

Margret Quinn
1926 – 1999
Beloved Mother

Annette Ruggerio
1918 – 2007
Nana

Giovanni Pisari
1888 – 1961
Live, Love, Laugh

Vincent Baia
1985 – 2008
Loved Son

The chrysanthemums before the slabs
some red, some white
some drooping, some still upright,
have reached their numbered days
ending like a sigh, humbled,
suspired after a frosty night.

Here a mausoleum
crowned with a granite cross
stands against the wind,
lettered: Daughters of the Devine Charity,
Sister Jean, Sister Mary, Sister Theresa, Sister Joyce, etc…
fallen leaves, year after year, another dropped.

And then the Marino mausoleum
with carved angels, the Virgin,
faded bronze door, and a bird’s nest cuddled
in the crook of the roof.
Salvatore, 1878 – 1949
Christina, 1885 – 1962
Rosalie, 1915 – 1982
John, 1935 – 1939
Edward, 1938 – 1979

The oak trees wave what little flags are left,
the acorns crackle underfoot ,
the wind empties all its woes,
and squirrels worry of winter’s want.

Return O Lord.
All wait for the breath of spring.
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Comments

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  1. andave_ya's Avatar
    For what it's worth: animals can't read, so I felt a disconnect between the names and the animals. Either remove the first two verses or change or add something to show that this is what a person walking through a graveyard see. I'd also try alternating the gravestone names with the actual verses and italicizing the gravestone names; that might feel a bit better? I hope that helps .
  2. andave_ya's Avatar
    PS My favorite verses are the three right after the gravestone names. The one about the mausoleum fits together just right; it's easy enough to get the picture in my mind's eye.
  3. skib's Avatar
    I would tend to agree with andave. The names and the animals had enough of a different feel, it wasn't quite the right vibe of disharmony. I don't know if that makes any sense. I also feel like spreading the names out, rather than having such a substantial list of them, may have helped. I don't see anything wrong with having the names in there, just there seems to be a small lack of connection between the animals. Anyone that has walked through a graveyard will understand what you were saying, though! This was one of the two I had a hard time deciding between.
  4. Virgil's Avatar
    Oh, did you guys think it was the animals reading? I meant the narrator to be a human.
  5. Delta40's Avatar
    I think the imagery overall is so powerful. I was instantly cast into the golden brown hues of autumn and I could feel the gust of wind through my hair as I read the tombstones, enjoying the fallen leaves underfoot.

    wonderful!
  6. Janine's Avatar
    Ok, you know, I had sort of thought this one might be yours, Virgil. However it seemed pretty long for you. I really did like it a lot. I forget now which one I voted for. It was a hard choice. One line made me think it was you - when you said the little critters...hahah...do I know you or what?

    I like it very much. I was thinking maybe you wrote it on your recent vacation?
    Updated 11-01-2009 at 01:16 AM by Janine
  7. Dark Muse's Avatar
    For what they are worth here are my remarks. It has always just been a personal thing with me, but for some reason, I usually get a little put off by poems that start with "and" also the style somewhat threw me a bit. The names, though it was interesting, and I understand what you were doing, broke up the rythm of the poem for me.

    Though I loved the concept behind the poem, being an avid wanderner of cemeteries myself, the poem prestend a rather familair scene.

    I did LOVE this verse

    Beneath the ground the rest goes on,
    the flesh wilts, goes dim, dwindles down,
    bones slowly change color, pewter grey,
    because all gold is really just sand.
  8. Maryd.'s Avatar
    Actually Virg, I agree completely with DarkMuse. To me the poem is deep and true. However I am also put off by poems that start with "and". Other than that I liked it.
  9. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    I don't think there's anything wrong with the poem per se, Virgil, but on an emotional level it didn't catch me at all. It all seemed a little too detached and the listing of the gravestones really added to that. I can see what you were trying to do, but, for me anyway, it didn't quite do it. I do think there's some wonderful imagery in there, I especially liked:

    buried into the bog of time,
    and

    a bird’s nest cuddled
    in the crook of the roof.
    and this stanza in particular as it seemed to have the most life to it:
    Morning hunger, the cool air,
    the little critters in a dash, up a tree, down a tree
    ferreting feed, and suddenly one upright with a host
    between its palms.
    but perhaps that sums up why I didn't vote for this poem, perhaps because, for me, autumn is more of a time of celebration, of fire and burning and the last flush of life before winter arrives, and your poem was just a little too dead and dying for me, and I couldn't feel the narrator or what the narrator felt about the scenes you were describing. That's generally quite important for me.
    Updated 11-01-2009 at 08:15 AM by TheFifthElement
  10. Virgil's Avatar
    Thank you Delta, Janine, Dark Muse, and Fifth.

    As to starting the poem with "And," this was the first time i had done that. The way to read it is that the title is a running start into the poem: "The Squirrels Through The Autumn Leaves/and the little blackbirds poke and peck at the ground..." So that one doesn't have to repeat what would become the first line of the poem.
  11. applepie's Avatar
    Once I read through the comments, especially yours about how you read the title and go strait into the firt line, it made a bit more sense. Overally I liked it fine (I just don't really make it into the poetry section much, since I know very little about it.)

    The only thing that I notice is when you are first listing the gravestones with the name, year, and epitaph... I read it as you wrote it first. Then I read it again, foregoing the years in that section. It made the graves feel a bit more like actual people to me, but I'm not sure if that was something you were going for:)

    Meg
  12. Dark Muse's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil
    Thank you Delta, Janine, Dark Muse, and Fifth.

    As to starting the poem with "And," this was the first time i had done that. The way to read it is that the title is a running start into the poem: "The Squirrels Through The Autumn Leaves/and the little blackbirds poke and peck at the ground..." So that one doesn't have to repeat what would become the first line of the poem.
    I did not even think of that, but it does make sense that way.
  13. Janine's Avatar
    Virgil, I think the idea of the first line being a continuation of the title would work, except you capitalized all the words in the title. Consider just capitalizing the first word. That way, at least to me, the title would flow better into the first line. I hadn't notice the continuation till you told me. Otherwise, I like the poem very much; good job and interesting reflections on life and death.
  14. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    I liked it myself. Some may think the subject matter is a little dismal, but I didn't think the poem was. I won't requote lines as the ones I really liked where all mentioned above. I didn't follow this contest, but maybe there was a better poem. It kind of reminds me of a photography contest I entered. Landscapes never do well. Maybe this poem falls into one of those categories that is never popular.
  15. DanielBenoit's Avatar
    First, I would like to say that I'm sorry for not voting in the autumn poetry contest, I seemed to have overlooked your message

    Concerning the poem, I must agree with TheFifthElement, it was a bit too emotionally detatched for me, but I did enjoy the imagery, and I didn't particuarlly find anything wrong with the listing of the gravestones, they do seem to bring a subtle concreteness.

    Though the poem has its errors, it has some very good and consitent rhythm throughout. I think it got better as it progressed, my favorite parts being:

    The chrysanthemums before the slabs
    some red, some white
    some drooping, some still upright,
    have reached their numbered days
    ending like a sigh, humbled,
    suspired after a frosty night.
    The oak trees wave what little flags are left,
    the acorns crackle underfoot ,
    the wind empties all its woes,
    and squirrels worry of winter’s want.

    Return O Lord.
    All wait for the breath of spring.
    I think that there is some magic in here, and I think that with a little more polishing, this can be a powerful and tightly structured poem.
  16. paperleaves's Avatar
    Your imagery is powerful and mesmerizing, and I can see the creativity in adding the headstone readings, but I think, personally, that they took away a bit from the beautiful story your tone was telling. It was a great read, very refreshing & sobering at the same time. The perfect reminder of life and death.

    Thanks for sharing, Virgil!!!

    in lovingkindness,
    Kate
  17. Lokasenna's Avatar
    Firstly, don't feel bad about not getting many votes - the competition was fierce, and all the entries were of a very high quality.

    As for my views (for what they're worth), I really did like it. I will say however that free-verse is not my stylistic cup of tea, although you do it well.

    I loved the juxtaposition of life and death in the poem, and their intermingling in the liminal space of a cemetary. Autumn, after all, embodies the change from life to death.

    I sometimes had difficulty quite understanding what you were getting at, particularly with the lists of dates, though I suspect that says more about me than about your poem.

    That's about as damning a criticism as I can justifiably give it... it is a good and enjoyable piece, which highlights the essential unfairness of picking a single winner out of such a group.

    Don't feel too bad, eh?
  18. Virgil's Avatar
    Thank you all. I appreciate the thoughts.

    Janine, good thought. No reason why they should be capitalized.

    Oh Loka, I'm not feeling bad at all. I'm just trying to see how the reader interpreted my writing, what came across and what didn't.

    Actually, if I may, my favorite line that no one mentioned is "because all gold is really just sand." For me that line kind of captured the theme: gold (color of the leaves) degrading into another substance, a lesser substance, while the line itself echoes a biblical line. It combined all the themes in the poem together.
  19. firefangled's Avatar
    Hi Virgil,

    You may not believe this, but my choice was between your poem and Anthropomorphism of Autumn.

    I thought the gravestones worked very well and as you intended. It slowed the pace down as the reader would physically do walking and stopping to notice each stone.

    What was very interesting to me was the way you did this twice in a different way. The second time for the mausoleum was even more endearing and private feeling. This was quite effective, in my opinion, and worked to enhance the ending.

    The final plea brought tears to my eyes. Though it had religious connotations, the ending had a quality (I attribute precisely to the universal pathos you established with the family names and sentiments) that elevated it beyond religion.

    Your choice of title and the presence of the squirrels and blackbird seem to humble the scene, also in preparation for the last lines. I have always thought that squirrels burying and foraging through the leaves in Autumn made a melancholy sound. I one wrote a poem called Fortress using that sound.

    You should be very proud of your entry and the choices you made for the poem.
  20. ~Sophia~'s Avatar
    Hi Virgil, I didn't know it was yours when I voted for it!

    To me, it had just the right amount of detachment after all, the narrator doesn't personally know the people buried there. It was a shuffle through fallen leaves in a quiet setting. I've taken a walk through an old cemetery and (unless I am visiting someone in particular), it's simply a peaceful and slightly reflective stroll. I thought your poem conveyed that really well and I liked it!
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