Sunday, October 8, 2006

October 8, 2006: After Apple Picking

Early October in East Tennessee, while perfect in its own way with the mountains just beginning to lighten, is a different breed than October in upstate New York and New England. October there is crisp and clear and lasts for weeks. October is apple-picking month. Years ago when my oldest brother, James, was in his glory days as owner of Littletree Orchards in Ithaca, my parents and I used to spend out Saturdays helping him pick apples, make cider, or sell at the Ithaca Farmers Market (which was, then, just a dozen stalls by the old train station). At the end of an apple-picking and cider-making day, you are cold and sticky and your mouth is puckered from eating too much sweetness.

Robert Frost knows orchard life. For my father’s seventieth birthday, over 10 years ago, James made a tape of himself reading Robert Frost’s poetry. “It was eerie,” my father told me on the phone. “When I played the tape, I heard myself reading, but I didn’t remember making the tape. Then I realized that the reader was James. We have the same voice.” Indeed my father and my oldest brother share some things: a love for the orchard life and the same voice for poetry. It is more than either of them realize.

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

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