Poetry Review: “A Short History of the Apple” by Dorianne Laux

11 Nov
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days. —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929
 
 
Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve’s knees ground in the dirt
of paradise.  Newton watching
gravity happen.  The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber’s bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain’s honeybees:
white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.
 

This poem is an idea cloud of everything that comes to mind with apple.  What’s interesting here is that Laux combines mythology and facts to make a history.  It’s an interesting bait-and-switch, because though her subject seems to be apples, what she’s really showing us is what makes a history.   For her it is not facts and figures–there’s no science here, but a collection of associations, stories, and sensual memories.   History at its heart is an irrational thing, based on our impressions of the present more than what actually happened in the past.

She revels in language here, with several phrases just popping out–bees being white man’s flies,  winter banana, tin pot hat.   And how the apple can symbolize women’s shame, westward expansion, scientific progress, America, Snow White–all these ideas that don’t normally fit together put under the thematic circle called apple.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a whole dictionary that cataloged common things like this.   How rich it would be.

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