The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Edward Byrne


The autumn air still fills with a bittersweet

scent of burning leaves from a neighbor’s yard.

A thick line of smoke rises over the thinning
trees, climbing high alongside migrating geese,

though curving slightly in whatever warming
breeze we might feel coming from among gusts

blowing just above a stubble of southern fields
and turning further toward the northern border

of this state, where even the lake water remains
unseasonably mild. Often, when I was young,

I wondered why my father sighed each time
he called such a brief reprieve from the cold fall

merely a magician’s trick, but today I catch
myself saying that old phrase much the same way

to my teenage son as we rake our lawn together,
both of us knowing this will not last very long.


Only three weeks before leaving Italy,
we had discovered that quaint old café,

an imitation of American dinner clubs
where someone told us we just might

find the kind of solo jazz saxophonist
who could hit those quick high notes

we had remembered hearing so often
back in the States. As music played,

a bluish gray haze of cigarette smoke
always hovered over the open piano

lid, and sipping a glass of white wine
one final time together that evening,

I felt as though the night might never
end. All around, small petaled heads

of long-stemmed roses bent, nodding
from tall crystal pitchers, the golden

blooms glowing like bright bulbs able
to illuminate every table in the room.


Though cold enough
for snow, I know bright sunshine

leaning across the lawn
and tilting through storm windows

of my enclosed porch
will warm the air trapped inside.

But here, choking smoke
rises slowly from a high pile of these

oak leaves gone gold
and brown nearly a month ago,

raked late in the season
by a neighbor with blistering fingers.

Farther off, large clouds
begin to drift in, each one shifting

with a growing wind.
By the time twilight slowly turns

to nightfall, that smoky haze
will dissipate in the starless dark,

even the sharp scent
of burning leaves will fade away.

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