"And down and down and down," the toddler's mother sings as he clears every ledge. Midway we cross their path. In rain, the museum's steps loom like the Giant's Stairway to Guardi's Ducal Palace. "And up and up and up" is what I do not say as you stagger for balance. Once I'd scaled that summit, hunted over the crowd, and saw you below, holding two hot dogs and white roses; you vaulted, took the steps two at a time, then three, and leaped to where we met. Your smile is broader now. You see more. On this day of wavering, we hear a Triton blow the horn where Giotto's Magi open hands that rise in air: up, and up, and up.
Rain hazes a street cart's green umbrella but not its apples, heaped in paper cartons, dry under cling film. The apple man, who shirrs his mouth as though eating tart fruit, exhibits four like racehorses at auction: Blacktwig, Holland, Crimson King, Salome. I tried one and its cold grain jolted memory: a hill where meager apples fell so bruised that locals wondered why we scooped them up, my friend and I, in matching navy blazers. One bite and I heard her laughter toll, free as school's out, her face flushed in late sun. I asked the apple merchant for another, jaunty as Cezanne's still-life reds and yellows, having more life than stillness, telling us, uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast but for themselves, and building strength to fly at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl, whirl in the air, and roll off a tilted table. Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies, let a loose apple teach me how to spin at random, burn in light and rave in shadows. Bring me a Winesap like the one Eve tasted, savored and shared, and asked for more. No fool, she knew that beauty strikes just once, hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit, tasting of earth and song, I'd risk exile. The air is bland here. I would forfeit mist for hail, put on a robe of dandelions, and run out, broken, to weep and curse — for joy.