Dead Leaves

Georgia Douglas Johnson - 1880-1966

The breaking dead leaves ’neath my feet
A plaintive melody repeat,
Recalling shattered hopes that lie
As relics of a bygone sky.

Again I thread the mazy past,
Back where the mounds are scattered fast—
Oh! foolish tears, why do you start,
To break of dead leaves in the heart?
 

More by Georgia Douglas Johnson

Old Black Men

They have dreamed as young men dream
     Of glory, love and power;
They have hoped as youth will hope
     Of life’s sun-minted hour.

They have seen as other saw
     Their bubbles burst in air,
And they have learned to live it down
     As though they did not care.

Black Woman

Don’t knock at the door, little child,
     I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
     Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
     Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
     I cannot let you in!

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
     I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
     Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
     Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
     I must not give you birth!

The Heart of a Woman

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o'er life's turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Related Poems

The Leaves

I can bless a death this human, this leaf 
the size of my hand. From the life-line spreads

a sapped, distended jaundice 
toward the edges, still green.

I've seen the sick starve out beyond 
the grip of their disease.

They sleep for days, their stomachs gone, 
the bones in their hands

seeming to rise to the hour 
that will receive them.

Sometimes on their last evening, they sit up 
and ask for food,

their faces bloodless, almost golden, 
they inquire about the future.

                    *

One August I drove the back roads, 
the dust wheeling behind me.

I wandered through the ruins of sharecrop farms 
and saw the weeds in the sun frames

opening the floorboards. 
Once behind what must have been an outhouse

the way wild yellow roses bunched and climbed 
the sweaty walls, I found a pile of letters,

fire-scarred, urinous. 
All afternoon the sun brought the field to me.

The insects hushed as I approached. 
I read how the world had failed who ever lived behind

the page, behind the misquoted Bible verses, 
that awkward backhand trying to explain deliverance.

                    *

The morning Keats left Guys Hospital's cadaver rooms 
for the last time, he said he was afraid.

This was the future, this corning down a stairway 
under the elms' summer green,

passing the barber shops along the avenue that still 
performed the surgeries, still dumped

blood caught in sand from porcelain washtubs 
into the road-side sewer. From those windows,

from a distance, he could have been anyone 
taking in the trees, mistaking the muse for this new

warmth around his heart—the first symptom 
of his illness—that so swelled the look of things,

it made leaves into poems, though he'd write later 
he had not grieved, not loved enough to claim them.