Arts & Culture » Culture

American Life in Poetry


Arizonan Alberto Rios probably observed this shamel ash often, its year-round green leaves never changing. On this particular day, however, he recognizes a difference — a yellow leaf. In doing so he offers us a glimpse of how something small yet unexpected may stay with us, perhaps even become a secret pleasure.

A Yellow Leaf

A yellow leaf in the branches

Of a shamel ash

In the front yard;

I see it, a yellow leaf

Among so many.

Nothing distinguishes it,

Nothing striking, striped, stripped,

Strident, nothing

More than its yellow

On this day,

Which is enough, which makes me

Think of it later in the day,

Remember it in conversation

With a friend,

Though I do not mention it —

A yellow leaf on a shamel ash

On a clear day

In an Arizona winter,

A January like so many.


Reprinted from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Copper Canyon Press, 2002, by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright 2002 by Alberto Rios, a writer and professor at Arizona State University. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry. Send comments to

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.