In his journal, around the year 1850, Thoreau writes of the gradual disappearance of wild apples, saddened by the realization that a generation hence, they would be virtually unknown in the land. They were planted anywhere it was thought they might survive — in odd corners, along roadsides, against walls — and left to fend for themselves — like us, it occurs to me now, a lesson in abundance and prolific surprise.
If all goes well, the grapevine I planted almost three summers ago will have a nice crop this year. The tiny bunches of grapes are already showing. If anything, despite my conservative winter pruning, I will have to thin them to keep the vine from producing more than it can handle. The variety, one I had never heard of before and still haven’t tasted, is called Himrod, and is a cross between Thompson Seedless and Ontario.
Long ago, in the vineyard on our farm, there was a wild vine. Its leaves looked like those of its Thompson Seedless brethren, but its growth was rank and it produced almost no fruit, and the fruit itself was strange, more stems than berries. The shaggy stump was much larger than those of its neighbors. We pruned it every year and tied its canes to the wire — a joyful, useless exercise.
I wonder what the lizards thought. While we were picking up the raisins on a hot October afternoon, one crawled up inside my dusty pants leg; not knowing what it was, I gave it an instinctive swat and shook it out onto the ground. The poor thing was stunned.
I also remember picking up a lizard by its tail, and part of the tail coming off in my hand. I must have been around eight or nine years old then.
Are poems wild apples? Some of them, perhaps, while others are best suited for the safety and uniformity of worried-over orchards.
A Larger Life
In my quest to live a larger life,
I have noticed smaller things,
including my own existence,
formerly thought of as profound,
but which now pales before
the taste and crunch of an apple,
or the invisible wake carved
in a misty November sky
by a formation of geese
passing overhead —
until I disappear altogether,
only to resurface on another plane,
where my struggles are unnecessary,
and I am no longer an intruder,
but a participant —
a human apple set upon by larger teeth,
a handful of crumbled earth
trod upon by a multitude of feet,
an enlightened gasp,
a flame burning clear and bright —
no longer a mistake,
or a question mark with a burden
of knowledge to bear,
but an intoxicating expression of delight —
like words on a page
no longer strangled by their meaning,
or a hostage of time free
to run naked in the night wind,
glorified by all that is unnecessary,
rebelling at nothing, nameless, insane —
where the larger life I sought
becomes a child knocking on my door,
breathless, urgent, asking me to play —
when the failed creed of purpose
withers and dies away —
and all that I am is forgotten and embraced.
Collected Poems, 2002
Also appeared in The Synergyst