We ride into the orchard at the edge of town
my children on hay bales beside me, bumping
along. What does it mean to fall, my daughter
has asked me for a poem she must write. In
the rows of the orchard, we muse upon
orchard versus grove, which we looked up
while homeschooling, although we can’t recall
the difference now, something to do with purpose,
the wildness, not citrus as I’d thought.
The fallen apples squish into muddy grass,
mushing and reeking of cider, already fermenting.
A lurch in my gut at the scent of decay.
To fall. Not caught. Left to rot.
We reach for the goldest apples, the sweetest,
my daughter and me. My son prefers the tartness
of green. He used to climb these branches, but now
he’s taller than anyone else in our family, taller
than most grown men I know, and can reach
the prized, unclaimed apples in the higher boughs.
None of this happened. Not this fall.
We do not live there anymore. My children
continue to grow up, and I grow old.
One fall, I was desperate for something fallen
from me, that stench of rot. And then came
motherhood. Every time I try to write a poem,
I mother the page. How some apples we bake,
some we eat cold and crisp from the basket.
In my dreams, even the yeasty stench of souring
apples, fallen, even the waste, gives way to new
growth. Let the years that have dropped
from me too quickly still bear fruit. Let the stars
in the seeded center take root. How’s this
for a poem, I ask my girl. How’s this.
Jenn Givhan, NEA & PEN Emerging Voices fellow, has published five full-length poetry collections, including Belly to the Brutal (Wesleyan University Press), and the novels Trinity Sight, Jubilee, and River Woman, River Demon. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, POETRY, Salon, and has been awarded The Southwest Book Award, New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, Pinch Journal’s Poetry Prize, and Cutthroat’s Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. jennifergivhan.com