They are walking in the woods along the coast and in a grassy meadow, wasting, they come upon two old neglected apple trees. Moss thickened every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches. Blue-eyes, poppies, a scattering of lupine flecked the meadow, and an intricate, leopard-spotted leaf-green flower whose name they didn't know. Trout lily, he said; she said, adder's-tongue. She is shaken by the raw, white, backlit flaring of the apple blossoms. He is exultant, as if some thing he felt were verified, and looks to her to mirror his response. If it is afternoon, a thin moon of my own dismay fades like a scar in the sky to the east of them. He could be knocking wildly at a closed door in a dream. She thinks, meanwhile, that moss resembles seaweed drying lightly on a dock. Torn flesh, it was the repetitive torn flesh of appetite in the cold white blossoms that had startled her. Now they seem tender and where she was repelled she takes the measure of the trees and lets them in. But he no longer has the apple trees. This is as sad or happy as the tide, going out or coming in, at sunset. The light catching in the spray that spumes up on the reef is the color of the lesser finch they notice now flashing dull gold in the light above the field. They admire the bird together, it draws them closer, and they start to walk again. A small boy wanders corridors of a hotel that way. Behind one door, a maid. Behind another one, a man in striped pajamas shaving. He holds the number of his room close to the center of his mind gravely and delicately, as if it were the key, and then he wanders among strangers all he wants.
From The Apple Trees at Olema by Robert Hass. Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hass. Used by permission of Ecco/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.
This poem is in the public domain.
Since the phlox are dying and the daisies with their bright bodies have shattered in the wind, I go out among these last dancers, cutting to the ground the withered asters, the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose, and see them as they were in spring, the time of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how they will all sleep and return; and sweep the dry leaves over them and see the cold earth take them back as now I know it is taking me who have walked so long among them, so amazed, so dazzled by their brightness I forgot their distance, how of all the chosen, all the fallen in the garden I was different: I alone could not come again to the world.
Copyright © 2003 Patricia Hooper. From Aristotle’s Garden (Bluestem Press, 2003) by Patricia Hooper. Used with permission of the author.