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PoetrySnaps! Melissa Studdard: If Falling Is a Leaf

Courtesy Melissa Studdard

In this week’s episode, Texas-based poet Melissa Studdard shares her poem, If Falling Is a Leaf. It’s a combination of poetry, music, autumn and the artist David Hockney. She wrote it in response to a musical score written by her partner.

Melissa Studdard:

My boyfriend is a composer, and we collaborate quite a bit. He was working on a short piece that he’d been asked to write to accompany a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and he was supposed to write about autumn.

He was looking at this painting, well, it’s actually not a painting it’s a drawing, but it looks like a painting by David Hockney called Autumn Leaves. It’s just this really beautiful drawing with bold colors and these interesting qualities of swirling wind around leaves and depth. One of the leaves looks like a heart in the middle, like it’s going to pop right out of the picture. So, I saw this and I fell in love with it, and I said, “I have to write a poem about this painting, too.

I do want to say before I read the poem, one thing that I would like for listeners to know is that towards the end of the poem I say two words back-to-back; wholly and holy. There’s actually different spellings for those words. The first wholly is as in completely. The second holy is meant more in the sense of being reverent.

If Falling Is a Leaf

urging the earth
into autumn
the branch is a lover who remembers
orange unlocked at the gates of fire

orange so bold it seduces green

orange unbuttoning the sun
and wearing it to summer’s funeral

because in loss
we are most vibrant

because urgent regions
of the leaf’s mind
ignite only when it opens
to its own demise,
all foliage
is reincarnated into desire

and we’re slayed
by light coming in
through a kitchen window

as though we hadn’t already seen it
for decades through the same pane

so we sneak to the coatroom
of our own party to make love
in everyone else’s fur

feral but divine

our behavior is not wholly holy
but the trees

oh my God

they wear their hearts on their leaves

About the poet:

Melissa Studdard is a Texas-based poet and the author of five books, including three poetry collections. Her work has been featured by NPR, PBS and The New York Times. Studdard's book awards include the Forward National Literature Award and the International Book Award. Her work is also named on Bustle's list of "8 Feminist Poems To Inspire You When The World Is Just Too Much."

About the host:

Steven Law is a poet, journalist and educator based in Page, Arizona. He is the author of a collection of poems called Polished.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.