“When old apple trees quit yielding,” she says,
fingering scarred bark with sun-spotted hands,
“farmers beat them with chains. It stirs up traumatin,
a hormone that shocks them into blooming and bearing again.”
“Apocalypse sex for trees?” She laughs, but
her thumb probes a rift and I flush just watching.
Then she drops to her knees, on the hunt around the trunk.
This orchard’s been barren since before I was born
and we’ve come here looking for a different fruit,
but it’s too late in the season. The fiddleheads are unfurled,
the morels were over by May. She gives up, pulls me down
by my skirt hem. “Is it the apocalypse yet?”
Hasn’t it been all my life? These damned fruit trees,
the way we laid claim, all over the Northwest Territory
they’re shriveling in scalding summers, losing limbs,
yielding nothing. Killing frosts reach further into
every passing spring, crushing overeager blossoms
from scions bred for her steadier times.
Her hands are old enough to know what they’re doing.
Thirty years of wheel throwing taught her pressure and pace,
how to open a form, stretch wet clay, collar a curve,
how to raise a wall and ease off before it’s worn too thin.
How hard she can push. She’ll leave me by autumn,
not caring to see what may crack in the firing.
But I’ll come here again, with some man my own age
and I’ll know what to look for next spring
when the ferns are still furred and coiled:
this spent orchard’s last yield, the choice,
musky fruits of dying roots. I’ll sauté them in butter,
feed him some with my fingers, try not to think of her hands.
Amy Love is a librarian, web developer, mother, writer, and amateur forager. She lives in the North Carolina mountains with her young daughter.