Monday, September 26, 2011

A DIALOGUE OF APPLE POEMS

With the advent of leaves turning gold and orange and the first hints of fall temperatures this past week-end, I felt a pull toward apple country where growers harvest the fall apples grown in the hills and valleys near Ellijay, Georgia. This town is known as the Apple Capitol, a place where apples actually “birthed” the agri-tourism business in northeast Georgia. When we started our Saturday tour of the orchards, the roads became congested with tourists seeking their share of 600,000 bushels of apples harvested near Ellijay.

Although October 8-9 and October 15-16 are the official dates for the Georgia Apple Festival at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds, the orchards bustled with apple tasters and pickers this past week-end. September harvests bring in September Wonders, Red and Golden Delicious apples, Rome Beauties and Mutsus, a few of twenty-five varieties that have already been picked and bagged. We sampled apples at R&A Orchards owned by Andy and Jennifer Futch and their four children, a family that carries on the apple-growing tradition begun by Leonard and Della Payne who planted their first trees in Gilmer County. This orchard has sixty acres of apple trees and approximately ten acres of peaches and nectarines, which will be harvested in June.

As my oldest daughter, Stephanie, lately follows a strict diet but can have an apple a day, I asked the orchard store clerk to ship twenty Gala apples to Stephanie's home in New Iberia, Louisiana. The young woman who prepared the shipping label asked me if I wanted to put a message on the package, and I told her to just say that I was sending something to encourage Stephanie's healthy loss of twenty more pounds and to sign it ‘Mama.’” I turned to leave, then added, “Put ‘Love, Mama’ on the card.” The young woman smiled at me . “I was going to write that anyway,” she said. “You must like your mother,” I replied. “Oh, I love my mother,” she said. “There are three of us children, and none of us live farther than five miles away from her.” Her sentiments made me lonesome for my own daughters, Stephanie and Elizabeth, who live in Louisiana and California, respectively.The young woman’s comments about her family depict the typical attitude of tightly-knit families who live in apple country, and their friendliness adds to the area’s charm.

The town of Ellijay derives its name from an Indian word meaning “earth green there,” a name befitting the forests in the Springer Mountain area of the Appalachian Trail. Cherokee Indians lived in the Ellijay area until they were removed in 1838 and sent to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears. The town boasts Oscar Poole’s Pig Hill of Fame which displays 3,000 blue, white, and yellow plywood pigs on a hillside near Poole’s Bar-BQ restaurant.

The sight of the apple in all its forms – the apple itself, apple jelly, apple pie, apple butter, and apple cider -- brought up the memory of an apple poem written by poet Robert Francis whom I heard read in Amherst, Massachusetts back in the 80’s. Francis entitled the poem “Remind Me of Apples,” the last stanza of which reads:

“In the long haze of dog days, or by night,
When thunder growls and prowls but will not go
Or come, I lose the memory of apples.
Name me the names, the goldens, russets, sweets,
Pippin and blue pearmain and seek no further
And the lost apples on forgotten farms
And the wild pasture apples of no name…” Robert Francis

This memory caused another poem to surface – a poem I wrote after I heard Francis read about his apples.  It appeared in my chapbook, Afternoons in Oaxaca, and is entitled “Robert Francis Reads On His 85th (Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts, August 12, 1986).” The following are the last two verses of this poem:

“Robert Francis placed a finger
with far-reaching nail
against his downy chin,
a forgotten pasture of stubble,
and waited to shake the apple tree,
to cause the sudden fall of fruit.
People stood up to give him ovation,
the air rained apples,
enchanted poems,
Robert Frost came out of the night
and peeled a deep russet one.

That evening of celebration,
Francis reminded me
apples made poems,
light filtering through tree limbs,
a harmony of red fruit
rendered just ripe,
are some men’s gifts.
He reminded me
when doubting the mind’s retreat
into its own falsity,
poets are more ancient
than scars on a library stair rail,
flesh made word, word made flesh,
not metaphor and mood,
but vowels,
crisp as fine apples dropped,
broadcast to heal
disturbances of spirit.”
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