Notes to Poem:
Yellow-Veined Leaf Sings

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: I take Bus #40 each day to Foothill College on the Los Altos Hills campus, and use the Mac computer in the Krause Center of Innovation. I walk to Jane Lane, Rengstorff Ave where there is a news bin to pick up copies of Daily Post for friends. While waiting for Bus #40 on the bench, a large yellow-veined leaf falls to the bench by me as if to say "Hello". I place the leaf in my book so I could scan it. Unfortuantely, the Epson GT-1500 Scanner was not working. The yellow leaf turned brown a day later, and its veins were invisible. I found a smaller yellow-veined leaf several weeks later and scanned it. For reference, I scanned a dark green leaf from the same tree which I learned was a Baby Grand Magnolia. This poem was written soon afterwards. It's surprising how the veins in this leaf made me recall rivers of the world and their music.

Commentary on Poem "Yellow-Veined Leaf Sings":

"Hello"— the yellow-veined leaf falls
on the bench by me where I wait for
Bus #40 each day at the corner of
Jane Lane, Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View.

Jane Lane & Rengstorff Ave
STOP Signpost, Mountain View

Bench at Bus #40 Stop
at Jane Lane & Rengstorff Ave

Baby Grand Magnolia Tree
similar to one near bus stop bench

It's a 20-minutes walk from my apartment to Jane Lane (a poetic rhyming name) on Rengstorff Ave in Mountain View. There's a Bus Stop for Bus #40 to Foothill College and a news bin for free copies of Daily Post. If the bin is empty,
I walk another 5 minutes to the news bins at Valero Gas Station for papers, and take Bus #40 there to Foothill College.

Photo Sources: Jane Lane Signpost (; Bench at Bus #40 Stop (; Baby Grand Magnolia (

I sandwich this surprise treasure
as keepsake in a book and learn
it's from a Baby Grand Magnolia near
the bench where leaves are dark green.

Yellow-Veined Leaf
falls to bench where I'm sitting

Dark Green Leaf from
Baby Grand Magnoia near the bench
Almost all the leaves on the Baby Grand Magnolia Tree are dark green (right). Only a few are yellow in color.
Photo Sources: Yellow-Veined Leaf (; Dark Green Leaf (

This ovate leaf with acute tip
is a mighty river branching out
into rivulets, brooks, and streams—
now it asks me to guess its name.

Names for Shapes of Leaves
I thought the leaf's shape was elliptical like an eye, but it is ovate. Illinois Natural History Survey has the names of leaf shapes as shown above. When I see the veins branching out, it seems like a river with tributaries, rivulets, brooks, and streams all flowing. Photo Sources: Leaf Shapes (

I hear no Lorelei singing on the Rhine,
nor loud chanting along the Ganges,
nor cormorant fishing in the Li River,
nor waltz tunes swaying in the Danube.

Lorelei on the Rhine

Ganges River, Varanasi, India

Fishing on Li River

Blue Danube, Austria
At the 10th International Biochemistry Conference in Hamburg, Germany (July 25-31 1976), Professor Heinz Rüterjans invited me to University of Muenster for a lecture. He suggested I take a boat cruise down the Rhine to view the castles.
As the boat passed the Lorelei Rock, the captain tells us this is where many sailors crashed in the narrow passage. Legend has it that Lorelei was a Siren Mermaid that lured them to their demise. Hindus bath in the Ganges River, believing the water is holy to cleanse their sins and bring them health and fortunes. Cormorant fishing at Guilin in the Li River is a great tourist attraction in China. For the final Adobe Illustrator project (1992), I deigned a poster of "China Travels", showing cormorant fishing at Guilin on the Li River. The Danube is the second longest river (1777 miles) in Europe after the Volga River (2294 miles). Johann Strauss II composed a waltz "The Blue Danube" (1866) that is one of the most popular pieces of classical music. I thought about these four rivers, but the leaf tells me to guess again.
Photo Sources: Lorelei on the Rhine (; Ganges River at Varanasi (; Li River (; Blue Danube (

But music is stirring in this leaf
sounding like Smetana's Moldau
the Vltava starting as two small streams
one warm, one cold, in the Bohemian Forest

Czechoslovakia #387: Bedrich Smetana
(5 koruna stamp issued June 4, 1949)

Map of Vltava River (Moldau)
flowing through Czechoslovakia

Smetana's Die Moldau
Sheet Music (1874)
While looking at the veins of the yellow leaf, and thinking of a river that matches all the rivulets, the music of Smetana's "Moldau" emerges. This symphonic poem was composed between November 20 and December 1874. It is 13 minutes long in the key of E minor. Smetana wrote: The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vysehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German)." Photo Sources: Czech stamp of Smetana (; Map of Vltava River (; "Moldau Sheet Music (

merging as one giant rapid running
through Prague's eighteen bridges,
its "wild water" passing woods and
meadows ending up north in the Elbe.

Moldau River flowing
through Czechoslovakia

Moldau River flowing
through Charles Bridge, Prague

Smetana's Moldau Record Album
conducted by James Levine (1989)
The piece contains Smetana's most famous tune. It is an adaptation of the melody La Mantovana, attributed to the Italian renaissance tenor, Giuseppe Cenci, which, in a borrowed Romanian form, was also the basis for the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah. The tune also appears in an old Czech folk song, Kočka leze dírou ("The Cat Crawls Through the Hole"). Photo Sources: Moldau flowing through Czechoslovakia (; Moldau flowing through Prague's Charles Bridge (; Smetana's Moldau Record Album (

James Joyce cites thousands of rivers
in Finnegans Wake, and this leaf sings its
first line— "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's
from swerve of shore to bend of bay"

Ireland 1220c: James Joyce
(30¢ stamp issued 6-16-2000)

James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
published May 4, 1939

First Page of Finnegans Wake
"rivverrun, past Eve and Adam"
Finnegans Wake was James Joyce's final work, written in Paris over 17 years and published in 1939. It is one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. The work's expansive linguistic experiments, stream of consciousness writing style, literary allusions, and free dream associations, makes it hard to read for the public. Joseph Campbell & Henry Morton Robinson tried to shed some light on this unintelligible masterpiece in their A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944). In Section 8 of Part I, known as "Anna Livia Plurabelle", is interwoven with thousands of river names from all over the globe, and is widely considered the book's most celebrated passage. The Moldau is cited in I.8.17-18 as "rubbing the mouldaw stains" and Ganges is mentioned as "gangres of sin in it!" (I.8.18). The entire work of Finnegans Wake forms a cycle: the last sentence— a fragment— recirculates to the beginning sentence: "a way a lone a last a loved a long the / riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay" Photo Sources: Ireland 1220c James Joyce stamp (; Finnegans Wake (; First Page of Book (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 10-6-2017

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