The Leaf Pile

By Alicia Ostriker b. 1937 Alicia Ostriker
Now here is a typical children’s story   
that happens in gorgeous October   
when the mothers are coming
in the afternoon, wearing brisk boots   
and windy skirts to pick up
the little children from the day care center

Frost in the air
the maples golden and crimson
my son in a leaf pile in the playground dreaming   
I am late, the playground is almost
empty, my husband will kill me

I gather my son to go home,
he forgets his sweater in the playground and I send him back   
he dawdles, he is playing with leaves
in his mind, it is already a quarter
to six, will you come on I say

and hurry along the corridor, there are yellow and blue rocket   
paintings, but I feel bad and ask what did you do today,   
do you recognize this story, the way he stands and picks   
his nose, move I say, do you want dinner or not   
I’m going to make a nice dinner, fried chicken
I wheedle, so could you please walk a little
faster, okay, I walk a little faster and get upstairs   
myself, pivot on boot-heel, nobody there,
he is putting something in his mouth, his sable eyelashes   
downcast, and I am swooping down the stairwell screaming

         damn you   
         that’s filthy
         I told you not before dinner

We are climbing the stairs
and I am crying, my son is not crying
I have shaken him, I have pried the sweet from his cheek   
I have slapped his cheek like a woman slapping a carpet   
with all my strength

         mothers are very strong
         he is too young to do anything about this   
         will not remember he remembers it

The mind is a leaf pile where you can bury
anything, pain, the image of a woman
who wears a necklace of skulls, a screaming woman   
you dig quickly and deposit the pulpy thing
you drop leaves on it and it stays there, that is the story

that is sticking in my mind as we push
the exit door, and run through the evening wind   
to my car where I jerk the gearshift and pick   
up a little speed, going along
this neat suburban avenue full of maples
the mark of my hand a blush on my son’s cheek.

Alicia Ostriker, “The Leaf Pile” from The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998. Copyright © 1998 by Alicia Ostriker. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Little Space: Poems Selected and New 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

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Poet Alicia Ostriker b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Youth, Parenthood, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alicia  Ostriker


Poet, critic, and activist Alicia Ostriker was born in 1937 in New York City. She earned degrees from Brandeis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Ostriker has published numerous volumes of poetry, including The Book of Seventy (2009), which received the Jewish National Book Award. Other books of poetry include No Heaven (2005); The Volcano Sequence (2002); Little Space (1998), . . .

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SUBJECT Youth, Parenthood, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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