Poet’s corner: An autumn radiance
The Golden Road
By Rachel Hadas
On a September morning I met my son
walking the other way. I had the hill
to climb; he was returning from a run.
No surprises; he
knew I was nearby.
As I knew he was. But precisely where
our paths might meet was a benign surprise.
The road was rutted, plastered with gold leaf.
Did our eyes, as we neared each other, meet?
More of a full-bodied recognition
this tall young stranger
around a bend who paused on seeing me
(however I appeared) and then passed on.
Autumnal radiance thickened
by complications, memory, history—
nothing startling, in my mother’s phrase.
The gold road curves.
The living pass the dead.
Old and young acknowledge one another;
then each take their separate path ahead.
Oh muse, peel off your dove-gray cardigan.
September, fallen leaves, and cool noon sun.
I rounded a gold curve, and saw my son.
Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, essays, and translations. Recent titles are “Piece by Piece” (prose selections) and “Love and Dread” (poems, both published in the summer of 2021. A new collection, “Pandemic Almanac,” is due out next March. Hadas is Board of Governors Professor of English at Rutgers-Newark (NJ), where she has taught for many years, and a longtime seasonal resident of Danville, Vt., where she has been fortunate to spend a lot of time this year and last year. This poem was first published in “The New Republic.”
I’ve always admired poems that take the mundane events of our lives and imbue them with a luster that lingers nearby, but that often goes unnoticed. In autumn, we tend to think the richness is out there in the brilliant colors and textures of the fields and woods, but in this poem by Rachel Hadas, it seems to come from all kinds of places. The ordinary suddenly made extraordinary — autumn radiance thickened — says the speaker. Already the road was pasted with gold from fallen leaves, already the air was bright and alive. But it’s also in a way just another September day, even as the speaker’s son approaches and passes by.
But clearly something happens for the speaker inside that moment; the road is no longer just a road — it’s a gold road — and now the living pass the dead, a phrase I love for its suddenness as much as for carrying many meanings. Suddenly we feel the presence of others in the speaker’s life — her mother and the suggestion of others. And a question has opened up, making us wonder where the speaker herself resides — with the living, or with the dead. But by the last stanza, the dove-gray cardigan fades, and we leave this question behind. Something has happened for her, and we witness what feels like a radiance moving within.
I imagine many of us have had an experience of something very ordinary that was somehow transformed. I think of my own father and how I would often run into him up at our family forest, in very much the same manner our poet describes. Suddenly the woods were not the same old woods; they had become a different place, a place of sacred meeting. And sometimes, as the speaker writes, the encounter became thickened by complications, memory, history. But almost always, too, tinged with a kind of radiance, a kind of joy.
Susan Jefts is a poet and editor from the Adirondacks and Vermont, who runs workshops using poetry to deepen our experiences in nature, and of what we find sacred. Her website is manyriverslifeguidance.com. Her poems can be found in many print journals and online.
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