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Originally published Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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American Life in Poetry

Judith Harris' "Gathering Leaves in Grade School"

Perhaps you made paper leaves when you were in grade school. I did. But are our memories as richly detailed as these by Washington, D. C C. poet, Judith...

Perhaps you made paper leaves when you were in grade school. I did. But are our memories as richly detailed as these by Washington, D.C. poet, Judith Harris?

TED KOOSER, U.S. Poet Laureate

They were smooth ovals,

and some the shade of potatoes —

some had been moth-eaten

or spotted, the maples

were starched, and crackled

like campfire.

We put them under tracing paper

and rubbed our crayons

over them, X-raying

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the spread of their bones

and black, veined catacombs.

We colored them green and brown

and orange, and

cut them out along the edges,

labeling them deciduous

or evergreen.

All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom,

with its cockeyed globe,

and nautical maps of ocean floors,

I watched those leaves

lost in their own worlds

flap on the pins of the bulletin boards:

without branches or roots,

or even a sky to hold on to.

Judith Harris

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright by Seattle Arts & Lectures. Reprinted from The Universal Controversial Hive: poems, stories, & memoirs by students, Writers in the Schools, 2006, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to 2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. "American Life in Poetry" appears Tuesdays in Northwest Life.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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