Richie in the Leaves

A Midsummer Tale ~ Second Place
Joe Kraus


The frame is too big; it pinches the photo so that you feel as if you’re missing parts of the image. That may be why it strikes me as it does—that sense of incompleteness, that sense of some important aspect of it lying outside the frame.

The details that come to me most forcefully are the reds and yellows of the late-summer leaves falling on Richie’s head and his dark, thick eyelashes as he closes his eyes to the swirl around him. He is laughing, I think, laughing and clutching at the too many leaves that the camera has caught suspended in air.

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You can’t know this from seeing the photo itself, but the leaves remind me of my childhood home. I recognize them as coming from the now vine-choked maple at the top of the yard, closer to the next door neighbors’ than to our house. With his eyes closed and in his infancy, Richie can’t know how much those leaves speak of my “roots,” of the boundaries of my own childhood in that house.

What’s missing from the photograph—and I feel it acutely every time I look at it—is my father, dead almost two years at the time. My son, my father, they never met in my waking hours, and yet somehow this picture brings them together for me. I named the one for the other, in keeping with Jewish custom and because it fit; the one life beginning just as the other ended.

There’s a circle here, I suppose, one that the leaves nearly describe, but one that I recognize as broken, too. Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us that the falling leaves remind us that “sorrows springs are the same,” that autumn’s single, somber note tells us of our death, our own end.

I can handle death and ending, I think, though maybe that’s just the confidence of a man who believes he has decades remaining. What I can’t handle so readily, what angers and comforts me in the photograph, is the idea of the loneliness that end implies. I know the burden of being all that links my father to my son. The one tugs me toward colored leaves, spent and careening in their final flight. The other reminds me of a wonder in the world around us too great to look at straightaway. There are too many stories to remember, too many promises to keep.
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“I am an associate professor of English at the University of Scranton and the co-author of An Accidental Anarchist (Academy Chicago 2000). My work has appeared in The American Scholar, Callaloo, The Centennial Review, Riverteeth, MELUS, and elsewhere, and I was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Prize in 2004.” E-mail: Krausj2[at]scranton.edu

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