I see pale yellow aspen leaves
along the shaded background mountainside
which quake and quiver in the slightest wind
as if they are determined to maintain
their named identity in bold defiance
of the seasons' change to duller hues—
and share their mood of glum diminishing.
So what is it about this momentary glow
of quaking yellow aspen leaves,
waving along white-grayish boughs,
accompanied by shrieking crows,
cascading under purple clouds,
that suddenly evoke in me a shudder
for all transient breathing things:
the brittle birds in fabricated nests,
burrowers hunched in tunneled dens?
I am suffused with sympathy so vast
it summons forth your grieving face,
my absent friend, amid so many others
I cannot make out, and almost
through that sympathy, its upward thrust,
I'm almost able to forget we all
must watch and mourn the vanishing
of wary creatures each in its own season
growing, reaching out, and flourishing.
Almost, dear friend, I hear your humming voice
merge with the murmuring of honey bees;
I soar out sailing free beyond myself,
beyond my own restricting cares,
abstracted in a liberating surge
of universal sympathy.
And yet the quaking aspen leaves,
as I observe them once again today
upon the pallid branches where they cling,
refuse at last to mean more than they are;
their quaking now is empty
of consoling thought, devoid of sorrow
mellowed merely by its being shared,
the soothing congregation of regret.
Shriveled and dry, they are no more
than curling yellow swirls now darkening
and merging with the darkened evening air.
"October Aspens" was published in Robert Pack's collection titled To Love That Well: New & Selected Poems 1954 - 2013 (Lost Horse Press 2013). His poems and essays have appeared in over a hundred magazines and anthologies, such as the American Scholar, New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, and Yale Review. His collection of poems, Composing Voices: A Cycle of Dramatic Monologues (Lost Horse Press, 2005), was a recipient of a Montana Book Award: “Pack’s crisp, sparkling language touching on subjects of personal importance to everyone creates a wonderfully accessible collection of poetry. It is a laudable addition to Montana literature.”
For the past sixteen years Pack has taught courses in Shakespeare, Romantic Poetry, Modern Poetry, and Ways of Knowing at the Honors College of the University of Montana in Missoula and at the Osher Institute for Adult Learning. He and his wife, Patty, live in a log home with a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains in Condon, Montana.