Lucille Knapp, high school English teacher at Earlham, once assigned us to write a poem about autumn.
We were renting a house a couple of miles away from the big old farmhouse (AKA my childhood castle), which was being torn down. “Six rooms and a path,” as Grandma Leora would have called it, meaning a path to the outhouse. Yes, an outhouse.
This house had running water but no bathroom. The bedrooms were at the top of very steep stairs, and in the winter snow sifted across the bed my sister and I shared.
It was there that we got our first dial phone.
But when the poem was assigned, I’d envisioned pumpkins, russet and golden leaves, crisp blue skies, and the rustle of cornstalks. But it was rainy and chilly, with puddles along the path to you-know-where.
It ended up to be a rather bleak poem, unrhymed, and I sketched the carcass of a tree with it.
I was rather taken aback when Mrs. Knapp made a big deal out of this one gloomy poem out of the passel of cheerful ones.
by Joy Neal, 1961
Close, sulfur-grey sky shifting, restless,
Dirty smoke billowing, diffusing, hovering.
Cold stone buildings stretching,
The unfriendly, bare-limbed oak
crouching in an alley, soggy with wet leaves;
so drab, gloomy, desolate.
Small miserable sparrows shiver in the damp air.
Water seeps from low hanging eaves.
Murky darkness closes about rapidly, quietly.
Slow drizzle slinks deep into old wood.
Hard cement for a pillow.
piercing draft through slats.
Peering ahead to winter.
How much worse can it get?
It can’t last forever.
Edited a little in 2021.