Today's poem is by Jeffrey Harrison

Walking with Eliza

Late morning, mid-October, Eliza and I
walk through the woods, the dog trotting
ahead one minute, then dawdling behind us
to sniff some pungent clump of damp leaves
before catching up with the two of us again.
We've both had birthdays this month—
fifty for me, a milestone I'm not sure
what to make of, for her fourteen,
a humbler number marking a transformation
more tangible: her tomboy phase finally over,
the baseball cap she wore backwards every day
now hanging on a hook in her bedroom,
already a relic, her thick hair grown out,
her body taller, balancing between
childhood and the exciting, slightly frightening
unknown of what comes next. But for now,
she's collecting leaves: the yellow mittens
of the sassafras, the burgundy oaks,
the lemony ovals of the beeches baking
to brown, and the maples' red flamelets
scattered on the path, their backs a pale violet.
She says she likes the maples best, reminding me
of the time, some fifteen years ago,
when I said something like that to a friend
from out West, who scolded me for having
"a proprietary attitude toward nature."
I don't recount that story for Eliza
but instead say something about how funny it is
that we talk in a way that makes value judgments
about nature even though we know one thing
isn't "better" than another. She agrees, and adds,
"I like the other leaves, too,"—maybe that's
what I should have said to my friend! So simple.
I comment on how strange the weather is,
as if the day can't decide whether it wants
to rain or be sunny—and then on how funny
it is that we say things like that, as if the day
had feelings. I ask her if they've talked about this
in English class, and she says, "You mean
personification?" and I say yeah, deciding
to spare her the term "pathetic fallacy,"
another rule about how we're supposed to think,
a censoring of the imagination.
I'm balancing between my fatherly instinct
to teach her and my delight in the fresh way
she sees things, grateful to have her with me
to keep me from being weighed down
by my own thoughts like these rocks half-buried
in the trail. They're beaded with moisture,
and I say this must have something to do
with the way the day is both humid and cool.
Eliza says, "I like to think they're sweating,"
and I laugh and say, "Personification again,"
and talk about the difference between rational
and magical thinking, and how it's funny
that I, a poet, gave the scientific explanation
though I prefer to see it the other way,
or maybe both ways at once. Because, after all,
we're both Libras, always weighing
both sides of everything—for instance,
the ways she is like me and the ways she isn't,
and how I want her to stay as light
as the bag of leaves she's carrying
but know she won't be able to forever . . .
and the two of us continue walking together,
years apart but right next to each other,
dropping bits of conversation onto one
side of the scale or the other, talking
about this and that, pausing to call the dog.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey Harrison All rights reserved
from Into Daylight
Tupelo Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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