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Two Deep Breaths: I Was Reading A Poem

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A Weekly Poem to Lift Your Spirits, to Help You Catch Your Breath

This week, fall colors have been on full display, so I’d like to offer you a couple of quiet poems about autumn leaves. The second poem, “I Was Reading A Poem” by David Rutschamn, was published a few Octobers ago in The Sun magazine, while the first is the untitled gem that inspired Rutschman’s poem, and it’s quite a few Octobers older— from the early 19th century, written by Japanese Buddhist poet/monk Ryōkan.

What more needs to be said about the exquisite beauty of falling maple leaves than the few physical details Ryōkan gives here? Except perhaps to use them as a metaphor for the mystery of life and death, as Rutschman does. I hope you enjoy a few moments of contemplation with these poems.


by Ryōkan, written in the early 19th century

Maple leaf
Falling down
Showing front
Showing back

I Was Reading A Poem

by David Rutschman, written in the early 21st century

I was reading a poem by Ryōkan about a leaf, and how it showed the front and the back as it fell, and I wanted to call someone — my wife, my brother — to tell about the poem.

And I thought that maybe my telling about the poem was the front of the leaf and my silence about the poem was the back.

And then I thought that maybe my telling and my silence together were honestly just the front of the leaf, and that the back was something else, something I didn’t understand.

And then I thought that maybe everything I understood and everything I didn’t were both actually just the front of the leaf— so that the totality of my life was actually just the front of the leaf, just the one side — which would make the other side my death. . . .

Unless my life and death together were really still only the front of the leaf?

I had left the branch. I was falling.

I was loose now in the bright autumn air.