Alice Friman

Five Gold Leaves

The end of November

and the last leaves of the maple

cling to the bare stick that has become their tree.


Tomorrow they’ll be gone. The letting-go time

over, the jostling struggle for light done.

Here in this hidden corner of the world

shaded by the deck’s overhang

where wasps nurture their threat

and the argiope buys time and groceries   

for her wheel, here

five rags gleam like solitaires

on jeweler’s cloth: the final display

October promised in its whispering

on the way down. I watch

from my bedroom window, marveling

at the hardiness of these orphans—

their obscure radiance—and wonder

if Emerson’s claim that Nature always wears

the color of the spirit is correct.

Aren’t these leaves supposed to reflect

what I feel? Not shimmy in their golden

graveclothes, shoving their bravura in my face.



The Red Oxalis          

I have transplanted the oxalis—

new soil, new pot, new window.


Outside, with all the rain, blue

heaven drips gray, and what glory

there is will have to begin here.


Each day I inspect the dirt,

feel with my finger, measuring

need or not for water, concentrate

on the buried rhizomes, blood-colored

and fat as summer caterpillars—

fat to bursting. Oh, to be

so about-to-be, so full of Watch!

Any minute now. Why, one might

be driven to drive a knife

into the gleaming heart of hope

that’s dangled before us, preening

in its virtue clothes, offering

its stingy cup


to know that here, not

somewhere else, but here

stirs recompense awake at last.


The pot sits on the sill, soaking up

what little light there is. A pot

of stemless, leafless dirt from which

red shoots, like bawling newborn souls,

will rise from nothing but good black earth,

black as the magician’s hat that teases

with its emptiness before it explodes in a flurry

of crimson scarves and real live birds.




Red blood cells are marrow made,

not in the long leg bones—they’ve

other things to do—but in the flats of breast bone

and clavicle, close to the heart. Pumped up

for oxygen delivery and trash pickup, those rubies

can service an entire body in twenty seconds—

faster than it takes a stranger to give advice or a cut

onion make you cry. Imagine the jostling

through narrow channels, red flags flying, the bumping

to comandeer a wharf. A whole Russian fleet

surging inside you, and you

                                              limp as a rag in a bucket

with your habitual sighs as if you wandered

deep in a gorge on a donkey’s back—downcast lids,

chin to chest, unable to appreciate a rosy tinge of sky

if your life depended on it

                                            while the red cells,

too busy for nonsense, circumnavigate the body

like wind-up Magellans, taking less than a second

to lap at the lungs, absorbing on the run, then another

ten to reach your bottom. Why, but to keep you

on that donkey’s back, to steady you straight and up,

not tipped into a ravine of nettles and broken legs which,

as I said, have other things to do, hugging those shaggy sides,

thighs gripping in earnest.



Midas Country

It was the sun’s opening shot,

and if there were pines or moss-

covered rocks or if nature

boasted beauty in any other form,

she seemed determined to keep

it secret—so busy she was,

disguised in glare.


We had come to see the lake.

We squinted, shaded our eyes,

but saw nothing in the metallic

blast. No boat, no fisherman,

no shore reflected in the hard

lapping of gleam. No cove

to row to and stop.

                      Maybe it was then

we heard the loon’s contempt, laughing

behind his chink in the blinding wall.


We had come too far together

to be groping now. What was left for us

but to reach out a hand and touch.


Instead, we stood there, afraid.


Driving like Jerry

My father drove, straddling

the center line. White line, broken

line, double yellow. No difference.

Forget yelps from the back seat or Mother’s

stony silence. Forget honkings, curses,

sirens. All those tickets. That line was his:

the keel of his pleasure, his compass, his North.


Where he grew up, there were no lines,

just quiet country roads. But when he hit

the city, the city hit him back: taxis,

garbage trucks, crosstown buses and all

those long-legged girls in little French heels

to pay attention to. Of that center line,

that line of Do Not Cross? Not for him.


To him, life was simple. Work like a plug

fourteen hours a day. Battle the world

for every grudging drop of dignity you get.

Then bathe on Sunday and slick your hair.

Theres that double stripe running down

the middle of the road, the highways zipper.

Pull out the choke, open the throttle, and ride it.


Even in his late eighties when hed lose track

of where he was, hed wrap his four tires

around that galloping streak as if it were

a thoroughbred running the Belmont Stakes,

sure that if he held tight and rode the line

long enough, followed it long enough,

it would take him down the straightaway,

past two lights, a left at the drugstore,

and around the corner for home.

Alice Friman’s sixth full-length collection is The View from Saturn: Poems (LSU Press, 2014).  Her previous collection, Vinculum: Poems (LSU, 2011), won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. A recipient of a 2012 Pushcart Prize, Friman’s poems were included in Best American Poetry 2009 and have been published in 14 countries. Friman lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College. Her podcast, Ask Alice, can be seen on YouTube. Friman was the subject of our Closer Look in Innisfree 9. See much more of her work there.



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A CLOSER LOOK: Wesley McNair

John Allman

Christopher Buckley

Grace Cavalieri

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Alice Friman

Michael Gessner

William Greenway

Sonja James

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Claire Keyes

Michael Lauchlan

Michael Lythgoe

Laura Manuelidis

John McKernan

Roger Mitchell

George Moore

Beth Paulson

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