Editor’s note: Anya Silver’s poem “Leavings” appeared in Issue 6.2 (2013) of New South. It’s a poem that beautifully captures the shades and movements of fall. The voice is soft but certain, and the images linger. Over email, Anya shared how this poem took shape, and what she’s been working on recently.
Anya Silver: Autumn is my favorite season, and usually the one in which I write the most, because the season’s mood tends towards contemplation and remembrance. I think there are probably twice as many autumn poems as summer poems in the world’s body of poetry—of which Keats’s “To Autumn” is still my favorite. In my case, I began “Leavings” with the word “correspondences,” and the poem at first revolved around that word, which I most recently encountered in the early American poet Christopher Pearse’s poem “Correspondences,” a Platonic, Wordsworthian poem in which Pearse claims that “everything has its own correspondence/folded within its form, as in the boy the soul./Gleams of the mystery fall on us still.” A friend of mine was dying, and so I was extremely aware of falling leaves as correspondences to her death—one of the oldest and most obvious metaphors associated with autumn. As I wrote the poem, my interest shifted towards the word “leaf” and its similarity to “leave” and so I played around with repeating iterations of those words for their sonic qualities. I also wanted to capture the visual brightness of autumn in my imagery. The poem employs many of the themes that recur most frequently in my poetry: the natural world, motherhood, death, faith, memory. Certain images, like apples, also appear in this poem that appear in much of my poetry—I could write a whole book just about apples, I think. The poem’s second to last stanza is the most important to me; in fact, when I revised this poem further after publication, I deleted the final stanza.
“Leavings” will appear in my next book, From Nothing, which is forthcoming from LSU Press in 2016. I’ve been focused mainly on getting that book out the door. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of German poetry and trying my hand at translation. I’ve discovered and been very influenced by the contemporary Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker, who mixes up syntax in interesting ways (she calls it “racing speech”) and who shares my interest in how religious faith can exist in a postmodern world. I’ve been trying to experiment a bit more with syntax, and with how disturbing normal syntax and punctuation can help a poem reach its essence. I’m trying to strip my poetry of all superfluities.
My son runs, slippery, from the bathroom,
dropping the towel from his still-wet body.
Underwear and shorts, he leaves on the bed.
I follow behind, gathering what he’s shed.
Outside, yellow leaves are beginning to fall,
leaving lawns patchworked as a girl’s skirt.
On a walk, I plucked a single blonde hair
from my black shirt, and it flew away
like a wild thing, shimmying in the wind.
At home, I shove the peels and cores
of apples down the disposal, a red whirl,
then order my son to pick up his leavings—
the towels, pajamas, and inside-out tees.
He loves bare trees with wind shaking them,
October—the year, too—beginning to leave.
My friend, who can hardly breathe now,
whose sight is failing her, says she’ll leave
before Christmas—the final leaving,
the one for which all others are correspondences,
which folds the others in its giant wings.
One morning, I’ll wake and she’ll have left me.
One day, my son will witness my leaving—
will watch the slow scooping out of my flesh—
my body left behind like an empty nightgown,
as wherever those who are leaving go.
Anya Silver has published two books of poetry, I Watched You Disappear and The Ninety-Third Name of God, both with the Louisiana State University Press. Her third book, From Nothing, is forthcoming in 2016. She was awarded the Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry for 2015. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in many literary journals and poetry anthologies, including Image, Five Points, The Harvard Review, and The Georgia Review. Her work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, in Ted Kooser’s syndicated column American Life in Poetry, and as an Academy of American Poets Poem of the Day. She is a professor of English at Mercer University and lives in downtown Macon with her husband and son.