Too soon, perhaps, for fruit. And the broad branches,
ice-sheathed early, may bear none. But still the woman
waits, with her ladder and sack, for something to break.
A gold, a lengthening of light. For the greens to burst
into something not unlike flame: the pale fruit
blushing over weeks through the furred cleft creases:
a freckling of blood. Then the hot, sweet scent
of August rot, drawing wasps and birds and children
through the month. So much abundance, and the only cost
waiting. Looking at the tree, I almost expect the sound of bells,
a stone church, sheep in flocks. But no sound of bells,
no clarion call. The church is far down in the valley.
This tree should be a revered thing, placed at the ancient
heart of a temple. Instead, it is on a common
lot, beside a road, apartment buildings, a dog
sleeping in its yard.  The woman has come here
neither as master nor supplicant. She simply plans
to fill a plastic sack with whatever she can take:
the sweet meat giving under the press of a thumb,
covering what is its true fruit: the little pit, hard
and almond-brown that I’ve scooped out,
palmed and planted, but to no avail. A better gardener
could make demands of such a seed, could train a tree
for what desire anticipates. But here the tree grows
only for itself. And if it bears no fruit for the killing
frost, or if it flowers late because of a too-warm winter,
what debt am I owed? At whose feet should I lay
disappointment? Delight no more comforting
nor wounding than hunger. The tree traffics
in a singular astonishment, its gold tongues
lolling out a song so rich and sweet, the notes
are left to rot upon the pavement. Is this the only religion
left to us? Not one only of mortification or desire,
not one of suffering, succor, not even of pleasure.
The juice of summer coils in the cells. It is a faith
that may not come to more than waiting.
To insist on pleasure alone is a mark
of childishness. To believe only in denial
the fool’s prerogative. You hunger
because you hunger. And the tree calls to this.
But the fruit is real. I have eaten it. Have plucked
and washed and cut the weight, and stewed it
with sugar and lemon peel until the gold
ran rich and thick into jars. I have spooned it
over bread and meat. I have sucked it
from my husband’s fingers. I have watched it sour
in its pots until a mist of green bubbled up
for a crust. I have gathered and failed it, as the tree
for me both ripens and fallows. But now, it is perhaps
too soon for fruit. The winter this year was hard,
the air full of smokes, and do I know if spring
reached the valley in time? Who planted this tree?
How long has it stood here? How many more years
can such a thing remain? The woman reaches a hand
up into the branches, palm cupped, weighing
the leaf knots. She is looking to see
what instincts, what weathers still grow here.
She snakes her hand through the greening branches.
Up from the valley, come the golden tongues of bells.

More by Paisley Rekdal

Bats

unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

Intimacy

How horrible it is, how horrible
that Cronenberg film where Goldblum's trapped

with a fly inside his Material
Transformer: bits of the man emerging

gooey, many-eyed; bits of the fly
worrying that his agent's screwed him–

I almost flinch to see the body later
that's left its fly in the corner, I mean

the fly that's left its body, recalling too
that medieval nightmare, Resurrection,

in which each soul must scurry
to rejoin the plush interiors of its flesh,

pushing through, marrying indiscriminately
because Heaven won't take what's only half:

one soul blurring forever
into another body.

If we can't know the boundaries between ourselves
in life, what will they be in death,

corrupted steadily by maggot,
rain or superstition, by affection

that depends on memory to survive?
People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger's waistline, joint

problems or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

Self-Portrait as Mae West One-Liner

I'm no moaning bluet, mountable
linnet, mumbling nun. I'm
tangible, I'm gin. Able to molt
in toto, to limn. I'm blame and angle, I'm
lumbago, an oblate mug gone notable,
not glum. I'm a tabu tuba mogul, I'm motile,
I'm nimble. No gab ennui, no bagel bun-boat: I'm one
big mega-ton bolt able to bail
men out. Gluten iamb. Male bong unit.
I'm a genial bum, mental obi, genital
montage. I'm Agent Limbo, my blunt bio
an amulet, an enigma. Omit elan. Omit bingo.
Alien mangle, I'm glib lingo. Untangle me,
tangelo. But I'm no angel.

Related Poems

Nearing Dawn

Sunbreak.  The sky opens its magazine.  If you look hard
                                                         it is a process of falling
                                                         and squinting—& you are in-
terrupted again and again by change, & crouchings out there
                                                         where you are told each second you
                                                         are only visiting, & the secret
                                                         whitening adds up to no
meaning, no, not for you, wherever the loosening muscle of the night
                                                         startles-open the hundreds of 
                                                         thousands of voice-boxes, into which
your listening moves like an aging dancer still trying to glide—there is time for
                                                         everything, everything, is there is not—
                                                         though the balance is
                                                         difficult, is coming un-
done, & something strays farther from love than we ever imagined, from the long and
                                                         orderly sentence which was a life to us, the dry 
                                                         leaves on
                                                         the fields
through which the new shoots glow
                                                         now also glowing, wet curled tips pointing in any
                                                         direction—
as if the idea of a right one were a terrible forgetting—as one feels upon
                                                         waking—when the dream is cutting loose, is going
                                                         back in the other
direction, deep inside, behind, no, just back—&
                                                         one is left looking out—& it is
breaking open further—what are you to do—how let it fully in—the wideness of it
                                                         is staggering—you have to have more arms eyes a 
                                                         thing deeper than laughter furrows more
capacious than hate forgiveness remembrance forgetfulness history silence
                                                         precision miracle—more
                                                         furrows are needed the field
cannot be crossed this way the
                                                         wide shine coming towards you standing in
the open window now, a dam breaking, reeking rich with the end of
                                                         winter, fantastic weight of loam coming into the
                                                         soul, the door behind you
                                                         shut, the
great sands behind there, pharaohs, the millennia of carefully prepared and buried
                                                         bodies, the ceremony and the weeping for them, all
back there, lamentations, libations, earth full of bodies everywhere, our bodies,
                                                         some still full of incense, & the sweet burnt
                                                         offerings, & the still-rising festival out-cryings—& we will
                                                         inherit
                                                         from it all
nothing—& our ships will still go,
                                                         after the ritual killing to make the wind listen,
out to sea as if they were going to a new place, 
                                                         forgetting they must come home yet again ashamed
no matter where they have been—& always the new brides setting forth—
                                                         & always these ancient veils of their falling from the sky
                                                         all over us, 
& my arms rising from my sides now as if in dictation, & them opening out from me, 
& me now smelling the ravens the blackbirds the small heat of the rot in this largest 
                                                         cage—bars of light crisping its boundaries—
& look
                                                         there is no cover, you cannot reach
it, ever, nor the scent of last night's rain, nor the chainsaw raised to take the first of the 
                                                         far trees
                                                         down, nor the creek's tongued surface, nor the minnow
                                                         turned by the bottom of the current—here
                                                         is an arm outstretched, then here
is rightful day and the arm is still there, outstretched, at the edge of a world—tyrants
                                                         imagined by the bearer of the arm, winds listened for, 
                                                         corpses easily placed anywhere the
                                                         mind wishes—inbox, outbox—machines
                                                         that do not tire in the
distance—barbed wire taking daysheen on—marking the end of the field—the barbs like a 
                                                         lineup drinking itself
                                                         crazy—the wire
                                                         where it is turned round the post standing in for
mental distress—the posts as they start down the next field sorting his from
                                                         mine, his from the
                                                         other's—until you know, following,
following, all the way to the edge and then turning again, then again, to the
                                                         far fields, to the
height of the light—you know
                                                         you have no destiny, no, you have a wild unstoppable 
                                                         rumor for a soul, you
look all the way to the end of
                                                         your gaze, why did you marry, why did you stop to listen,
where are your fingerprints, the mud out there hurrying to 
                                                         the white wood gate, its ruts, the ants in it, your
                                                         imagination of your naked foot placed
there, the thought that in that there
                                                         is all you have & that you have
no rightful way
                                                         to live—