I was making apple pies yesterday, trying to remember who wrote the poem about making apple pie instead of writing a poem. I’m a poet. I could have been writing a poem myself, but the hundred-year-old apple tree in front of our house has suddenly given us a bounteous crop: oddly shaped apples with a tart, spicy flavor. Friends say an old tree putting out fruit so abundantly is trying to reproduce before it dies. I love our old tree, so I’ve been baking pie in its honor.
When I got my pies in the oven, I looked up the poem that had been niggling at me. It’s by the late Grace Paley, and it’s called “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative.” In it, Paley says friends who tasted the pie she baked were astonished she’d made only one — and notes they never said that about her poems. She says she chose pie-making because “I do not want to wait a week, a year, a generation for the right consumer to come along.”
Despite its chronic lack of “the right consumer,” I believe in poetry. Poetry’s a gift. Poets give to the world the way my ancient apple tree is so generously supplying me with apples; knowing we are going to die, we bloom and bear all the fruit we can. Poetry even reminds me of the oddball variety of apple I keep harvesting this year — eccentric and elegant at the same time, somehow ancient even when it has just dropped from the branch.
Grace Paley got to have her pie and eat it, too. She ended up with a poem. Yesterday, I did not write any poetry. I stood, as many other women who have lived here before me have stood, peeling apples from the old tree, slicing them and fitting them into pastry. The kitchen smelled of butter and nutmeg. And something central in me shifted. I may believe in poetry, but I’m beginning to believe in pie.
That’s good. There are plenty more apples on our tree. The ones I don’t get will fall on the ground, ferment and attract bees in their alcoholic decay. Bees have their own mortality issues at this time of year. You do not want to step on a mushy apple full of yellowjackets dealing with the advent of That Good Night. This I do not only believe; this I know.
There comes a time when we have to deal with the gifts we are offered on their own terms: an impossibly old and hollow apple tree in its final explosion of fruit or the telephone wire from eternity I pray I have the talent to create with enough work. Hmmm,eternity. Do people even have landlines there? Perhaps it’s best that I made pie today. I do believe in pie.
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