An Ancient Temple on a Leaf

by Don Schaeffer
The Waters
Third Place, October 2020
Judged by Jim McGarrah


Not a painting
but the patterns of things
etched into the walls.
The wall in my
grandmother’s Bronx home
was made like that.
Who knows how old
were those walls. And
the backs of my eyes
are like that sometimes,
illuminated with stray sunlight
making virtual shadows
and glistening when
I dream. And here they are
cut into the surface of the leaf
under my flashlight aimed
like the sun. Ancient palaces
in faraway places
as intimately mine as this
lens, as my eyes, and memories,
and dreams.


Robert Bly wrote a seminal treatise on a subject he labeled “Leaping Poetry” in which he posits that works of art, including poems, make leaps within themselves if they are truly art. “A poet who is leaping makes a jump from an object soaked in unconscious substance to an object or idea soaked in conscious psychic substance.” The best poems are always the ones with the richest associations between the conscious and the unconscious mind, but any poem that is worthy of the term art will contain some of these leaps. “An Ancient Temple on a Leaf” attempts those associations well enough that we sense an act of discovery taking place within the author and therefore, are able to make those distinctions through the images presented, we are able to find new areas of reflection as readers. It helps the poem maintain a universal connection through specificity, an important point in the all-important balance between clarity and obscurity, between emotion and intellectual competence. --Jim McGarrah

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