Pentadic Leaves

Steven B. Katz, Clemson University


Text of Pentadic Leaves written for and delivered at the Kenneth Burke Society Conference, Saint Louis University, 19 July 2014.


Terministic Tree:
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

It's green and moody.
Leaves rattle the air.
Trees rattle the clouds.
A breeze is moving
through the tree. 
A wind is moving
through the clouds.

But nothing happens.

There is a tension in
the leaves; there is
attention between
this tree and
the next. The leaves
pale and thicken
like cloud.

But nothing

Now a breeze
rushes through
vowels that quickly
gather at the roots
like forsaken words.
A wind
crashes through consonants
of rock and wood
(not teeth and bone).

There is motion
in the tree. There is
causality in the cloud.

But transcendence?

A branch of sentence
flickers in the cloud,
breaks off, falls
down, is absorbed
by the deaf
ground, freezes
without an attitude,
without a gesture, without
a further sound.


Consubstantial Division

(in the "Tragic Frame")

This is me in winter

a white wind which
twitches like witches, which
groans and moans, which
complains and whines

a noisy tabula rasa,
mistaken "negative capability," 
embarrassed presence and absence,
"trained incapacities"–

a green screen gone dark
and cold: a void of snow
that is me and mine,
wholly together



In time's yoked yule
when lives are jangled,
snow bells dragged
as dry as broken crystal;

when green red days
are rung in dust,
and human thought
now turns to rot;

hands thick with cold
like slabs of clay,
prepare our lives
for another day;
then comes the new year
like a god,
to cheer us on
to faith and sod.


"Counter-Statement" (also in the "Tragic Frame")

'A Mind of Winter'*

A night full of flurry and thought:
black houses, black pine trees, become depressions
in the dark, branches etched
by ghostly winds made half-
visible, stenciled in air,
the world abstracted in the snow.       

I see my reflection in the sky
with a small dull lamp behind me,
my hand moving across the void, 
inscribing what I behold and cast
in fields of glass, transparent masks
covering the land below.

The sun will clarify, show things right,
melt these altered images 
that haunt instrumental sight, these flakes
engraved on a disappearing
pane, this breath that now makes me blind,
these words imprinted in terministic ice


Hierarchy and Identification

The Spark of Being/Lost

First, one foot, then the other, begins;
then the leg, each leg, swivels
around and under, collapsing, quivers,
gives into hidden pits of oblivions.                                                                         
And in the wilds of your backyard
you are lost, stumbling through
your neighbor's grass, crawling toward a spark of dew,
rain on every blade piercing your

piety, your congruous perspectives, your rhetorical conscience
as you fall, your physiognomy interpreted, your biological base
becoming your ambiguous orientation, your dancing face
the symbolic act of an animal that grasps at language awk-

wardly, a tragi-comedy of hierarchies, a drama of attitudes providing motives
as unsubstantial as angels, talking to ourselves, a swaggering torso
movements turned into symbolic action, and so much dust, is 

Counter-Nature: Analogic Extension of Technology in "the Comic Frame"

By sheer repetition, imitation, mimesis, you will remember
your subjective routine, your technological psychosis, rising from your bed,
extending your counter-nature into the giving air
sideways transcendence to whose knows where…

one morning you'll awake without a body; —and unlike your ancestors
crawling, stumbling through the forest— reach out into space; and conscious,
trying to maintain your regimen, your linguistic nature, you'll
think yourself toward the bathroom, where . . .

you'll reach (without a hand, or a nipple)
for a toothbrush that is now a lion
and the clothes you laid out to be ironed, Orion,
that ironically have become unnecessarily supple    

where physics and language meet to form a panoply
of screens from which to view the motives of your anatomy
and analyze the material of your autonomy
as you float in the ethics of planes of incompatibility


Substance: "A Retrospective Prospect"

Where We Came From, Where We Go from Here

the forest floor is churning
quietly as the leaves
of deciduous trees are turning

into light brown ground,
soft conifers shedding
their pine needles, one by one

cover earth with stubble,  
quickly convert old leaf meal
into decay, wood crumble

whereby twigs and branches, trunks
slowly blur and melt and
whole trees become little stumps that bump

against the tiny tips and stalks
of buds that gather, grow, rot
inward, reaching down, then sprout

balsam wings like little motive arrows,
and (since "all living things are critics")
point, protect the way for sparrows

into futures whose "attitudes towards history," altitudes of hierarchies, spread, conceal
a sky so full of transformations that the slow green
lives and logologies of word-trees will rise, congeal

into a substance of ideas and sounds whose ratios are
the apparatus we create and we don't yet understand,
new symbolics of rhetoric and grammar

where language and physiognomy explode in a biology of stars,
sprouting multiple parallels, the nerve centers of universes
in bodies no longer like ours, but are

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*Title adapted from the first line of Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"