Poetry Friday: “Purgatory”

This post was originally published eight years ago, on Sept. 14, 2012. Since this little blog has gained a great deal more followers than it had when it was first created, I thought this was the perfect time of year to share it again. Hope you like it!


I have to thank David L. Harrison for this posting.  Last week in his blog, he posted a new poem (you can read it here) which reminded me of one I had written a few years ago about the same subject.  It got me thinking about how and why we view things the way we do…

For instance, a group of one hundred people could all witness the same thing simultaneously – a tree, a sunset, a rock, a catastrophe – and each one would see it, feel it, and remember it differently (I’ve written a number of poems about this concept, actually).

A perfect example of this is to take a classroom of children outside to view something mundane like the lawn or the sky – nothing too exciting or stimulating – then bring them inside and ask them to write down one word that describes what they saw.  You’ll get very different answers because each child views life through their own thoughts, interests, and personalities.  We all do.

That’s what’s so great about poetry!

One person can look at a leaf caught in a spiderweb and think stand-up comedy (like David did) while another can look at the same thing and think death (hence, the title of MY poem).

So here it is; it’s a bit more narrative than I’m used to, but I wanted to relate the experience as a story as much as a poem – and even though I wrote it for adults, I wanted younger readers who may happen upon it to be able to understand the gist of what I was saying.

This was published last autumn in the Licking River Review, and now, a year later, with fall fast approaching, I suppose it’s the perfect time to ‘resurrect’ it:


On its gentle descent to the grave,
a lone maple leaf
found itself
suddenly suspended,
in a spiderweb.

Caught halfway between
life and death
it hung,
a tenuous existence.

Not wanting to complete
the journey
the leaf was satisfied
to accept this fate.

it thought,
than the alternative –
and rain
and thick-treaded soles.

But as the days grew shorter
weeks grew long
and the leaf
dry and brittle with age
as friends and family passed.

a burst of wind
loosed the grasp of the web;
the leaf,
now free to fall,
in anticipation,

– © 2012, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Janice Scully is celebrating the season, as well, with an original poem and photos from upstate New York – so be sure to head over to her blog, Salt City Verse, where she’s hosting the complete Poetry Friday roundup for today!


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35 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Purgatory”

  1. That is so lovely, Matt! You captured beautifully both the sense of contentment at the leaf’s delayed fate and its longing to be with others who had passed. Such an evocative use of personification.

    I thought David’s stand-up comedy poem was veeeery imaginative and clever. What a delight to see a completely different take on the subject.


  2. Matt, I agree with your post. How boring it would be if we didn’t all have different perspectives! It was great to compare the point of view of both David’s and your poem. Might there be a bit of double meaning in “thick-treaded soles?”

    I also think of The Fall of Freddy the Leaf when I read your poem. Maybe the goal is to finally be ready when death does come. A very deep poem, indeed. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Mary Lee; even though it’s probably for the best given the circumstances, it’s still sad when it happens. Thanks for letting me know. I had never thought of that analogy, but I suppose it is apropos.


  3. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Mary Lee; even though it’s probably for the best given the circumstances, it’s still sad when it happens. Thanks for letting me know. I had never thought of that analogy, but I suppose it is apropos.


  4. davidlharrison

    Matt, I enjoyed your poem as well as the comments. It has been a good year for leaves so we’ll have enough material to last all winter!


  5. Matt I am glad you re-shared this post today because in a piece of synchroncity, i also posted about a lone leaf today! I hope my leaf did not find itself in purgatory when it finally fell. But who knows?


  6. Matt, there is a soulful, contemplative tone to your post today. Your title is intriguing and caught my eye. This narrative poem adds depth to the dilemma and sorrow of life in a pandemic world. How many fear or mourn the descent -” Not wanting to complete the journey downward.” Life is captured in your poem. Thanks for sharing your perspective on a soul leaf. I, too, found a single leaf for PF today.


  7. lindabaie

    I love it, Matt. Evidently, I did not read it in the early posting & it is a melancholy feeling to imagine that leaf and its thoughts. It reminds me of a long-ago story titled “The Last Leaf” by O. Henry. Thanks for re-posting!


  8. I enjoyed your contemplative approach to this stuck leaf, in a pause before its final rest. Yesterday my black asphalt driveway was strewn with many and I think that will be temporary too. I love the contrast in tone between your’s and David’s poem, leaf as stand-up comic.


  9. Some pretty profound stuff for that leaf — this poem is perfect for this time of year, when we all feel like we’re hanging in the balance — between warm and cold seasons. Missed this post the first time, so I’m glad you reposted it this week. 🙂


  10. It was fascinating to see the different takes on the same topic from you and David. Thanks for sharing your poem again as I missed it the first time around. This is the perfect time of year for leafy contemplations of one sort or another. Yours is particularly moving.


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