Apples, birds and wishes, with poems by Jean Connor, Fran Markover, Pat Anthony and Jennifer Wallace.
On this episode, things in trees. First, two poems about things that grow in trees, namely apples.
Jean Connor started studying and writing poetry after she retired from a career as a librarian. Passager’s editors liked Jean’s work so much that they decided to expand Passager’s role from just publishing a journal to publishing books, as well. Jean’s book, A Cartography of Peace, was the first book Passager published. Here from that book is Jean Connor’s poem “Jonathan Apples, Macouns and More.”
The valor of red barns
cannot hold, nor that of
covered bridges, nor the flame
of sugar maples, nor
warmth of the October sun.
To see these last things
and to see ourselves seeing them,
we drive into the country
when the foliage in Lincoln Gap
For a short afternoon,
we equate the sum of the world
with pumpkins, purple asters,
baskets of apples, honey,
sumac and scarlet, but can we
be forgiven for this false equation
because, on rare days in October,
the world, viewed from Vermont,
really is round
with pumpkins, worthy of bees,
their honeycomb, and sweet
with the fragrance of wood-smoke,
a world acquainted with cider,
blessed with the willingness of apples,
wise with the inerrancy of mountains.
“Jonathan Apples, Macouns and More” by Jean Connor. Jonathan apples, by the way, have always been my favorite. I grew up thinking they were named after me.
Here’s another poem about apples, “Apple Spirits” by Fran Markover.
Poundsweet, Ginger Gold, Keepsake, Cameo —
heritage tastes at the farmstand remind me
of our orchard in the Catskills. Winesaps
misshapen heirlooms for the deer who found
them mornings. I’d gather the fallen treasures,
present them to Grandmother. She held each one,
read soft spots and bruises as if it were a reckoning
for the Book of Blossoms. This one’s right for
Mr. Needleman’s strudel. These two, take away
the worms, are perfect for Papa’s kugel. And the
crabapples — winter keepers for cider. Grandma
pared, sliced, cored in her floury kitchen, made up
tales of banished princesses who braved their
way home. Stories of peasants carving hopes
into apple skins, words like children or riches
engraved into fragrant flesh. Nights, after dessert,
Grandpa strummed his mandolin, eyes closed,
trusting the strings to tremble with remembrance.
He sang Hushabye, my little bird. Lulinke, Mein
Feigele. Perhaps the melody was lament for his
mother, unable to take flight, or for me, leaving
our family nest for school. As we bowed in a circle,
lit candles, Grandma’s hands beckoned the light
toward her face, her heart. She whispered
into flame: Yitzak, Levi, Clara, Ruchel. When
someone utters a name, she promised, prayer
rises, blessings tumble down, bear fruit.
“Apple Spirits” by Fran Markover from her book Grandfather’s Mandolin.
Next, two poems about things that hang out in trees, namely birds.
Pat Anthony said that her poem “Goldfinch on Guara” was inspired by the hard work of truck farming and the desire to occasionally take flight from it all.
Oh, how we flew today, me grasping those
hollow bones like tiny rudders against your
jerky scallops, dips, sunflower seed snatching
dives. Total concentration to keep from tumbling
into the fisted heads of Queen Anne’s Lace tied
by invisible fingers against marauding beaks and
pincer claws. Mid-flight, I heard the farmer rumbling
like an old truck about worms on the onions
but I kept on flying past the endless rows of beans
and tomatoes, putting distance between us and
those full bushels waiting for blanching, freezing.
We rocketed away until I’m unsure how I find my hands
full of asters, in this prickly sweater, a single goldfinch
scolding from a spray of guara like we’re secret friends.
Pat Anthony’s poem “Goldfinch on Guara.”
Finally, by Jennifer Wallace from her book The Want Fire, “At Daybreak.”
Waiting for the Oriole Under the Serviceberry Tree
I swear — the orange bird did come once to this tree
under which I now sit with my camera and fancy lens.
It’s good medicine to wait for a bird, to try to chase it
doesn’t work. The more I look, the faster it recedes, too
high into the tall pines. A cardinal came to rescue me,
a ruby throat, too. But they didn’t stay long enough
to do much good.
So, while I contemplate another hard winter passed,
the peeled paint on the steps I fix each year, a friend —
dead, another pissed off at her boss, and a grandchild yet
to arrive, the bees in the berry blossoms promise summer
pies. And all the while, the question mark that is
the absent oriole whistles the same old song. But the bird
won’t come, has other worms to fry and the world won’t
behave, not even for me, though — by God —
I wish it would try.
“At Daybreak,” Jennifer Wallace.
To buy The Want Fire or Jean Connors’s book A Cartography of Peace or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.