I would bike to the pear trees each morning
and stretch into their leaves, pulling out fruit.
I developed a taste for Winter Cole
Doyenne Du Comice and Taylor’s Gold.
When the pears ran out I moved on to apples.
Cox’s Orange were small in thick trees,
Granny Smiths green among gnarly branches
and Fuji, red bulbs hanging within reach.
Apples were harder than pears, resistant
and once I had shed my picking bag, I’d
head to the main road, extend a pleading thumb
and make my way back into Nelson
to paint abstractions in the garage
and read in the shade of the plum tree.
from Wit of the staircase, 2009
One of the many things I love about a poem is how it can shift under a change of circumstances. Poppy, whose pear orchard I once worked on 10 years ago, passed away on Friday. She was a dear friend to my mum, who visited her regularly throughout her long illness.
The phrases “among gnarly branches,” “harder… resistant,” “stretch…pulling…extend,” “within reach” and then the final rest beneath the “shade of the plum tree” now stand out to me in this old poem, in a way I never intended them to. The poem’s title too seems to have been steeped in poignancy. Language is magical in that way. I will remember Poppy among the pear trees, her curly black hair, her sharp wit and often surprising sense of humour. She will be missed.