The Leaf Pile

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, upress.pitt.edu. 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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