American Life in Poetry: A Yellow Leaf

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Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Arizonan Alberto Rios probably observed this shamel ash often, its year-round green leaves never changing.

On this particular day, however, he recognizes a difference—a yellow leaf. In doing so he offers us a glimpse of how something small yet unexpected may stay with us, perhaps even become a secret pleasure.

Editor’s Note: This column is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

A Yellow Leaf

A yellow leaf in the branches
Of a shamel ash
In the front yard;
I see it, a yellow leaf
Among so many.
Nothing distinguishes it,
Nothing striking, striped, stripped,
Strident, nothing
More than its yellow
On this day,
Which is enough, which makes me
Think of it later in the day,
Remember it in conversation
With a friend,
Though I do not mention it—
A yellow leaf on a shamel ash
On a clear day
In an Arizona winter,
A January like so many.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Reprinted from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Copper Canyon Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.