by J. Kates

οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίνεται ὥρη:
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.[1]

Like drifted memories, dead leaves
I thought I’d raked away last fall
have come back and, risen by the wind
after the springtime thaw, are all
over the yard. I will rake again,
finite, recurring work to keep me sane.

Like dead leaves gathered in the lee
of rock and rhododendron, photos
accumulate in the dining room, where I try
sorting and dating them in the weird hiatus
that marks time. Clocks have stopped,
duties in abeyance, tenses dropped.

Things will never be the same. Things
are the same as always. That movie,
you saw it too, how we must rehearse
and rehearse every act with love
until we break the spell. It will not happen
today. It happened yesterday. Hoping

it will happen tomorrow, happen
again the day after tomorrow. April,
March, then May. Each photograph
I scan and put away in a labeled file
is different. Every leaf the wind has blown
writes the same obituary of its own.


[1] Homer, The Iliad, Book VI: 146-9 tr. Richard Lattimore:

As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.

“Tomorrow Was Yesterday” has been published in A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic, edited by Elayne Clift, University Professors Press: 2021.