Early Fall
by Francine M. Tolf

Faded oranges and rusts, reds rosy and mellowed
as though still faintly warm,
and the many and varied tones of wheat and brown—
today, these muted colors please me more
than the flame of a fiercer afternoon.
And insects are muted too, their modest chirrups and peeps
a soft quilt covering fields on either side of this path.

Our mothers are gone, our fathers too,
but I am not unhappy today, thinking of that,
thinking of how we did not drive to Duluth or Stillwater
as we promised we would in May.
“Spring is the saddest season,” my sister Claire claimed,
and I know she is right: every year, that longing
that splits open and sobs—

far gentler, early fall.  These wildflowers are enough,
and the way geese journeying south surprise
with the rawness of their calls.
We’ll have butternut squash tonight, dusty grapes for dessert.
When I return from my walk,
my old cat will climb into my lap and spread heavy as syrup.
I’ll spend time with “The Dead,” a story
my students think boring.  (Did I think so, too?  
For she is walking with me today,
that girl who read
Dubliners for the first time,
and my mother is close by as well.)

It will be enough, the meal you prepare,
the leaves I collected in a cup on the table.
I’ll look into your eyes by lamplight to decide
if they are green or brown.
It will be enough, and more than enough.


Francine Marie Tolf’s poetry and prose have appeared in over forty
journals.  Her first collection of poems,
Blue-flowered Sundress, was
published this year by Pudding House Press.  She has been awarded a
Minnesota State Arts Board grant, a nonfiction fellowship in the Loft
Literary Center Series, and, most recently, an emerging artist fellowship
from Blacklock Nature Sanctuary.  Her second collection of poetry
(Plan B Press) will be published in the spring of 2008.

On “Early Fall”:
I have poet Jim Moore to thank for “Early Fall.”  Jim was one of
the mentors in the 2006 Loft Mentor Series; along with other
“mentees,” I attended a workshop he led for us last fall.  During it,
we read Robert Hass’s poem “Late Spring,” which is so beautiful
it gives me goose bumps.

Jim suggested an assignment: pick any genre—poetry, nonfiction,
or fiction—and try to do what Hass does.  Take us through a day
in your life.  Include other people.  Keep the mood calm, meditative.  
Let the intensity emerge from the writing itself.  “Early Fall” is no
“Late Spring,” yet I was happy with what I came up with.  When I
read it aloud to Jim and the others, he said how interesting it was
that the mood of my poem was so different from what I had
modeled it on.  I’m still not quite sure what Jim means, because I
definitely wanted that same calm, almost nostalgic, yet ultimately
joyful tone.  Anyway, I’d highly recommend reading
Robert Hass’s

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 2, Number 2
(Fall 2007)

Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.