Poetry Classroom: Sour Plums

In this final week of Poetry Classroom with Anne M. Doe Overstreet, we invite you to consider signing up for Anne’s 2013 Poetry Workshop.

While you’re thinking about signup, let’s discuss “Sour Plums”—its form, images, sounds, meaning, surprises. Then get ready to enjoy February, when our new theme here at Tweetspeak and Every Day Poems will be Purple, Plum, Indigo.

Sour Plums

A jackhammer cracks apart concrete slabs.
At the bus stop two girls in hoodies gossip loudly,
curse at traffic. They think they can shock us
as we bend beneath the feral plum tree.
We are in the season of blossoms, white swans
silking the backs of our neck,
dappling our dirty shoes. Next month the tree
will begin to form green fists, hard and destined
to become fruit that is barely edible
but will fatten the squirrels, help the rats
through winter. The spastic boy flails by
in his running suit, and I try to love
the sour flesh of our future,
wonder if given enough sugar the plums
would yield some pleasure, bruised surface
bursting in syrup as I search for the right word
to describe the stone heart and the way it insists
on repeating itself every spring.

Photo by John Morgan, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Anne M. Doe Overstreet, author of Delicate Machinery Suspended.

Check out the upcoming Poetry Workshop 2013 today. Begins February 18th.

Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In February we’re exploring the theme Purple, Plum, Indigo.

Every Day Poems Driftwood


  1. says

    Love this kind of poem. Where the images certainly speak for themselves, but a sense of alternate story lurks beneath the images and the words…

    the fist, the bruises, the heart…

    powerful. And then, because it is not explained to the reader, the reader can bring his/her own meaning to the poem. Love :)

  2. says

    “dappling our dirty shoes” hmmm, love this. I am drawn to the stark contrast of fragile, gentle new and the dark, dirty and unlovely…”girls in hoodies gossip loudly, curse at traffic.” I am taken too by the lines and phrases of the “natural” ( the blossoms, the swans and the squirrels) juxtaposed against the traffic, bruised, spastic, sour, stone.
    I hear the breaking out from cold winter into new birth and life at two levels, the natural and the relational. Is this something you intended?

    I am looking for leaves to drop from a money tree so I can sign up for the Workshop. So far, no signs of any.
    But I have so enjoyed these Poetry Classrooms with you. And maybe on your second Workshop I will be the first in line.

  3. says

    There were no words to go with the feelings these Sour Plums evoked… until I hit this last line… I found one, or maybe one found me: groundlessness.

    “I search for the right word
    to describe the stone heart and the way it insists on repeating itself every spring”

    • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

      I meant it to be hopeful. Last year was the first year the fruit was really edible, and that only after removing the skin (which remains bitter). Its an amazing fuschia color, when pulped down. And I am hopeful that the swearing hooded girls have become an painter or a weaver or a gardener or an astrophysicist!

      • Donna says

        LOL! I hope so too! Thank you for commenting Anne, and yes, I can see hopeful … how it keeps trying… coming back in full cycles again and again. I think “groundlessness” came to mind for because of this cycle… the cycle repeating itself ceaselessly no matter what the “taster” has to say about it… sour or sweet, it comes cycle after cycle it comes… each time maybe a little bit different, softer, sweeter, more sour… the taster has nothing to do but allow. It is the most hopeful offering I think… to learn to allow. (I’m not very good at it, but I try)

    • Jon Lewis says

      I’ve been sitting here thinking about the stone heart. It is what the poem is really about at least for me it belongs the to writer.
      An endless cycle, repeating, enduring. Like the tree, like the seasons.
      Waiting I think for a jackhammer like love to break it open and reveal the meaty heart within.

      • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

        Isn’t it amazing that a pitted stone seed can produce those swan-silk blossoms? So how can we not hope for the girls (and the poet)to produce something beautiful.

        • says

          :) I like that…. Yes!!!! Hard opens to soft…. Very hopeful. That we can each produce beauty… Become it. Sometimes with a jackhammer ….. Sometimes just through cycles and softening.

  4. says

    For me the poem was bitter and harsh against a lovely tree that gives you hard reddish wood and flowers in late winter. What blooms in late winter, nothing but this “Sour Plum” tree? We get images of white, pink, and red blossoms, how beautiful is that? The leaves turn oval and have a pointed tip. As the fruit hard green begins to form like the size of marbles or cherries in English they are called greengages and can only be found in Persian grocery stores. Ask for them in Persian “Gojeh Sabz!” Impress them with your knowledge. The sound you will hear is noshing on them. The surprises are a strong fragrant scent, they are made into fruit juice, their taste is sour, sharp, tart, and tangy. The Chinese use them for medicine for a drug used in oral & bacteria mouth disease.
    So when I read the poem I don’t feel we pay homage to such a mystical fruit that comes from so many lands. Like Japanese call it mume and Iran say jarareng, Lebanon use erik, while Turkey says mei and China ume. I found all of this so intriguing over one green sour plum.
    So maybe because it is sour you added the hooded girls and yes, we can love it if it’s preserved or presented in the right form so I get that and the fact it comes back each year.

    • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

      Marcia, your tree, and its fruit, sound much more interesting than mine! Though I absolutely love the beauty of these trees. I stand beneath them when they’re snowing petals. They are, as far as I can tell, and as far as my tree-saavy friends can tell, Italian Plum trees (prunus domestica). I call it feral because it was neglected for a long time before we moved here and the lack of proper pruning and fertilization means the fruit is not very good–the skin is bitter–and for years it was not edible. However, it is beginning to turn around. You should write a poem about the different names for plum trees and their uses. There is so much beautiful detail in your description. I can smell them and feel their weight in my hand almost!

  5. says

    Anne, thank you so much for your positive comments and the information on your Plum trees. I come from the south and was raised on a beauiful farm. My Father planted hundreds of fruit tree’s near the side yard and every spring my mind takes me home. The wind would blow and thousands of fragrant scented blossoms in pink and white blew all over the yard. It looked like a spring snow and I felt so special to dance in the wind and twirl amist the magic of it all. It was marvelous and Anne the lilac’s, we had so many lush purple lilac’s and the scent spilling out like sweet perfume. Those were the days of my life as a little girl growing up on a farm.

    • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

      Oh I know what you mean about the lilacs! We spent some significant time living in Virginia. Swaths of purple and pink and white when they bloomed. And we always had fruit trees too, though not a proper orchard. My grandparents had grapes and raspberries and blueberries and blackberries and currants too…

      • says

        Dear Anne,
        I have so enjoyed your poems, sharing that special part of your soul. For taking the time to read comments and even answer them with zest and enjoyment. Poems can be a mystery as we try to figure them out so in a way you are already writing a mystery.
        I love to tell a poem about an empty house or shadows on the wall, love gone, empty cups and no air to breath. A spirit that still lingers from the past, garden paths covered in overgrown ivy. Oh my, I must go write now. Would love to take tea with you one day.

    • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

      I never mind questions… But I don’t know that I can say. I grew up steeped in books and the natural world. I’ve loved French, math, and music–all languages. I just always assumed I’d be surrounded by books and a book life. But I did take a poetry course in college and knew at that point that this was something I wanted to do, specifically. Though I do other types of writing, poetry’s my first love. Still, I’d like to write a mystery before I die…!

  6. says

    I just realized that I came here to read and accept the offering of your poetry dear Anne and forgot to say thank you.

    When I write poetry it seems it takes my insides and folds them, unfurls them on the page. So it is no small thing to write and then offer it up to others.

    Thank you for sharing your art, thank you for giving of yourself, thank you for investing of yourself into others who have a love, a hunger, a compassion for the poetic and long to live and breathe poetry.

    • Anne Doe-Overstreet says

      And doesn’t some part of you just sing when you draft the perfect line?

      It’s good to be part of the conversation, to wander in the lyric, to pursue the perfect phrase like a hound, isn’t it?

      • says

        ARGG darn …meant to say passion NOT compassion.

        And yes yes I sing I do. How did you know :) My soul sings.

        And yes fleas and all, like a hound I pursue the perfect phrasing and wording, hovering over every word and syllable, each line like an overprotective mother.

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