As winter diminishes, there is, always, a flourish of up notes in untended orchards, fierce and insistent as Mozart’s “Jagdsinfonie,” though this is not a vigor that will result in the largest fruit, the highest productivity. Those trees are marvelous in their spindled wildness. A first draft, if you will, quilled and unruly. Wavering silk in the same measure with furled leaves; almost the whole is there, for a moment, the thing entire.
For the tenth year, I am thinking about the future of our dwarf apple tree with its lichen-ruffled branches. Every gardener or arborist has a rule of thumb about pruning—the when of it and the how, selecting which fruiting spurs to keep, shaping, and removing storm-cracked or splintered wood for health. It is over-abundance—shoots ascending in a vertical rush—that draws me to today’s task. As it will again once the pollen-flushed blossoms droop and fall away. When a bit of color shows I will pinch the bunched knots down to one or two possibilities. Domesticated apple trees, or Malus domestica, by design are most apple (or most plum, most pear) when attended to. With my red-handled Fiskars in hand I approach. If we intend to benefit from the tree, it needs the removal of the slick superfluous limbs, those whose potential to bear fruit is small.
Soon I am ankle deep, cuttings strewn across the grass like lots. The slender sticks are perfect, each joint slimming down until it forms a tip, a dab of mauve against the grey where a rumored leaf lies in wait. I find myself reluctant to discard them. Should I read them first? Climb a taller tree and take a photo of the apple wood’s silent language? Without a clear question to ask, maybe not. But the spilled strokes, the bridging line where one crosses another look like script to me, like even the abandoned have a word to speak.
I realize I spend more time considering the scattered trimmings than is necessary and wonder if the neighbor has noticed how long this is taking me. The pulp tastes bitter green as I clamp a small piece between my teeth. Yes, I’m one of those. They look like lightning bits before they’re lit and flung skyward. If soaked in water, they will retain flexibility for days and can be bent. In one fiction piece I’m working on, a woman crafts a bell from twigs trimmed at the start of each year; from this she hopes to hear the various names of winter.
I try to coax my poems to open up. Because seven signifies completeness, I choose six slender boughs and wrap the bruised ends in twine and bring them inside. The right-hand top drawer of my desk is a slurry of saved lines—mine or Roethke’s or Machado’s—map scrip and paper-clipped paragraphs on mazes, spiny sea slugs, and proper fountain pen technique. I’ll use it somewhere perhaps. In the meantime, I paw through the flotsam, pick up an illustration of equisetum, and write Lindsey luring her horse Minky to the saddle with three golden apples.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $2.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In June we’re exploring the theme Trees.