This Is the Fruit I’ll Never Die For: Featured Poetry by Paisley Rekdal

May 7, 2019 | 1 book mentioned 2 2 min read

Our series of poetry excerpts continues with a poem by Paisley Rekdal from her new book, Nightingale, a careful, hypnotic work. The book opens with “Psalm,” a poem about a narrator’s observation of her impatient, earnest neighbor, who, despite the “ice-sheathed” branches, “waits, with her ladder and sack, for something to break.” In “Pear,” the longing for fruit returns in a meticulous poem that shows Rekdal’s vision and storytelling gifts. “It is not a sin / to eat one,” she writes, “though you may think // of a woman’s body as you do it, / the bell-shaped swell of it / rich in your hand.” By turns sensual and sweet, Rekdal’s narrator captures the many facets of hunger.

 

Pear
                                                                                                      after Susan Stewart
No one ever died for a bite
of one, or came back from the dead
for a single taste: the cool flesh
cellular or stony, white

as the belly of the winter hare
or a doe’s scut, flicking,
before she mates. Even an unripe one

is delicious, its crisp bite cleaner
almost than water and its many names
just as inviting: Bartlett and Comice,

Anjou, Nashi, Concorde
and Seckel, the pomegranate-skinned
Starkrimson, even the medieval

Bosc, which looks like it dropped
from an oil painting. It is not a sin
to eat one, though you may think

of a woman’s body as you do it,
the bell-shaped swell of it
rich in your hand, and for this reason

it was sacred to Venus, Juno, all women
celebrated or dismissed
in its shape, that mealy sweetness
tunneling from its center, a gold

that sinks back into itself with age.
To ripen a pear, wrap it in paper,
lay it in cloth by an open window

or slip a rotten one beside it
on a metal dish: dying cells call always
to the fresh ones, the body’s

siren song that, having heard
it once, we can’t stop singing.
This is not the fruit

 

that will send you to hell
nor keep you there;
it will not give you knowledge,

childbirth, power, or love:
you won’t know more pain
for having eaten one, or choke
on a bite to fall asleep

under glass. It has no use
for archer or hero, though
anything you desire from an apple

you can do with the pear, like a dark sister
with whom you might live out
your secret desires. Cook it

in wine, mull it with spices, roast it
with honey and cloves. Time sweetens
and we taste it, so gather the fruit

weeks before ripeness,
let summer and winter both
simmer inside, for it is

a fall fruit whose name in China
means separation, though only the fearful
won’t eat one with those they love.

To grow a tree from seed,
you’ll need a garden
and a grafting quince, bees, a ladder,

shears, a jug; you’ll need water
and patience, sun and mud,
a reverence for the elders

who told no true stories
of this fruit’s origin,
wanting to give us the freedom
of one thing that’s pleasure alone.

Cool and sweet, cellular and stony,
this is the fruit I’ll never die for,
nor come back from the dead

for a single taste.
The juice of the pear
shines on my cheeks.

There is no curse in it. I’ll eat
what I like and throw the rest
to the grasses. The seeds

will find whatever soils they were meant for.

Copyright 2019 Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved. Posted here with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

is a staff writer for The Millions. He has written for Rolling Stone, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and The Kenyon Review. His newest book is Ember Days, a collection of stories. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and twin daughters. Follow him @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at www.nickripatrazone.com.

2 comments:

  1. I started this book, could not stop. As I read the central, long poem I was gripped by the sense of ‘no, please not’ in the inexorable movement…that not being any critique but rather deep appreciation sitting beside the ‘damn, this is grievous.’ Pulitzer, Nat’l Book Award surely…this book is a powerful work of art; makes you (at least it did for me) see clear difference of order between poets I enjoy but not as polished, or effective maybe is the right word: form wedded to content. Just…stunning. Went from it to latest, posthumous Geoffrey Hill collection. Arguably apples and oranges; still, Hill pales.

  2. Wow, thanks so much for this — what a gorgeous poem. Will be seeking her out immediately. And thank you, also, for highlighting poetry so regularly and with such care.

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