ditch,

the poetry that matters

Andrea Applebee

Andrea Applebee is a poet based in Durham, NC.

 

 

 

from Metamorphoses of Stones

 

Steady Loss

 

What slender curses worked those wounds in long measures, quick turns. Not an insult no, gesture once mistaken for love. Wrapped in layers what throbs and buckles adapts, forced into action and shape. No laughter froths like the sea no outrage slips into oblivion for nothing.

 

You can tell by the vinegar sweet by the edge off a composure, a flicker and scar, if not by the confusion, force of effort or that which drives it.

 

You see an old man turn himself into a fish, into a net, a knife a wind a stone, then a man again and you may wonder if more than choice or trick drives him to it.

 

But it is difficult to address the concern. Time passing while some sound unknown by most as song shears off itself into scree.

 

Consider the metamorphic influence of pressure and temperature through time on a rock. Thermal aureoles of corrosion placed familiar in planes of breakage and recrystalization; the new mineral grain forming at the cost of the old.

 

A certain texture advances as music does, point by melting point, continuous to the degree of near anonymity—the long influence of descending hours;

 

aftershock, compression, all the sweet or forlorn minions of circumstance. In the heat sink of this our homeland, porphyroblasts, cataclastic rock.

 

Something'd happened or was happening.

 

 


 

 

From Disasters hid

 

The Pull of Habit

 

A broke hinged day held together with our wrists we know any answer will do if our teeth are in it

 

If we consider the long waste of a woman's love of a man’s effort the years crumbling into a powder, drying up from tears like dead riverbeds after a rain;

 

again if we count how the ants've eaten our cakes from the counter, as they always find a way, so that we try to outwit them only to find wit isn't it at all—

 

so that some morning maybe the first of the month we turn the calendar sigh out the window and wander out of the breadbox into the possible

 

there's always something to lay its weight on our minds and pull with its might; sordid but considerate

 

the world'll feed off us as we do, it, but more--and what's stronger than that rate of change but our own velocity towards death, our only economy of mortal days, mortal nights and there's no unless no forgive me darling no ascertaining distance no appeal process,

 

not that this should cause you concern;

 

modesty or service, vanity or adventure, traps, qualifiers false doors--it'd depart with the breeze and the body finds comforts

 

the sodden yard and trunks dark from the rain, cars gone by on the street still a little loud from the water and the birds starting up

 

imprinting us softly in our figuring all the courage of deserts, of mountains all the unruliness all seas we once alighted;

 

where is our wealth in them as the world devours us

 

and we recall our first caresses, our certainty then. We must draw the ghost lively; we don't know when it visits for the last time.

 

 


 

from Disasters Hid

 

Sweet Water and a Guiding Hand

 

Are you coupled to your choices out of some historic compulsion as in the pseudo determined future of the under-willing;

 

how could we stick our necks out for the brand, nosing the asses of those in front of us so as not to get lost; it ruffles my blood to think of it.

 

I'll swear to stay awake, pick up my feet, ride my horses faster, harder, more free…but for the comfort of a warm bed; the long withheld barely perceptible approval of someone who matters, the nod of shared labor…

 

There must be a way to be free without striking out alone, and fucking it all up.  Like sailors in the rigging. Who doesn't love them.

 

The whole thrust and shiver of I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm working hard at something but I don’t know what. Lord let me die with my hammer. 

 

Why improvise and work against what we are when it is evident that fundamentally we can change only what doesn't count.

 

Still craving for more alternatives, alternatives to this hand and how to play.  So they can't call where you’re from; so no one can come to the conclusion. So you're one of that kind.

 

Why carry on without rest, like strangers for whom every town offers itself only briefly, just enough to leave its mark.

 

Unless it’s what we choose.

 

 

 

 

   

Pacane

 

 

How Could You Judge its Worth

 

Bone of what long since absent thing it emerges. Without belonging to this world, but still belonging in it. It stands limbs knuckling fine then slender bent into a dense core as of beaten metal, it descends muscled and sudden into the earth. Come mid autumn on the right year there hangs there a certain fruit, fleshy within, brassy and hard without, as the mind is, but oblong like a bullet.

 

No single pecan is like any other.

 

Full taut and spent at different angles this one has a look of having been hammered into shape; its hold on the surrounding air is a loose but heavy one. Twisted as with great and steady effort, still, with neither pain nor thought though it seems to know of them.

 

The old tales unwit recoil

into its fervid gesture.

 

Having a life like ours but simpler, and therefore root to branch more distinct.  Being the same in this world as in fable it lives once, hard, roughly elegant and whole, fast-put in its making.

 

In lore lost to us now, the pecans threaded the earth great in stature but without purpose, until sure and sudden, it came. To make flesh of dirt until at last descending to it themselves.

 

 

*


 

By Rub of Day and Spike of Night

 

Long to leaf in spring and slow to fruit only then in alternate years. Thus with each year seasons return but the pecan takes its own measure.

 

If May winds favor a tree ten miles away can fertilize another. Ninety days pass  gone slow at first, then rapid. The kernel  develops from a liquid to gel in September,

 

then to dough, filling out. In early November, when the dough is ready, its husk cracks along four sutures. The nut if not yet fallen may be shaken from its place.

 

Bestowing without reserve the pecan exhausts its stores for a substance its seeds can live on 'til they are able to gather what they need.

 

The flesh furrows as it dries, soft  but firm. In single containments the kernel is made

 

so rich that when you light

a match near it'll catch and be consumed in its own oil

 

*


 

 

Defined Reciprocally

 

According to a Caddo myth a giant squirrel gives twins two pecans with strange power within them. They plant the first: a tree springs up overnight. One at a time they ascend to receive something and drop, bone by bone back to the ground.

 

They'd expected this. The remaining twin covers the bones with a cloak, shoots an arrow, and cries: "watch out!" Then the other runs out, whole.

 

They ask each other what they'd received in the heights of the tree. The second twin opens his mouth and a sound emerges that shakes the rocks. The first twin opens his: a serpentine crack of electricity divides the air. 

 

The second pecan also came to use, serving as a bridge  they crossed to recover their mother from the dead.

 

At the end of their lives on earth these twins ascended the first pecan

And since they pace with storms alone and the skies roil.

 

It is well known in the lowlands still that if you climb even a common pecan, you will descend changed.

 

*


 

Shipwrecked

 

On the Guadalupe in 1527 Cabeza de Vaca called it the river of nuts. He writes

 

the nut tree there bears fruit one year and then another year not. When there is a crop, there are plentiful nuts,

 

a delicacy, for these Indians come from a distance of twenty or thirty leagues to eat them, and eat only them for the whole month.

 

Orphaned young and a veteran not much later, he'd wander in America for a long time captive or trading ill or well before finally being banished for life from his home country on several counts.

 

It could be said he lost many things he held dear.  But he had the honor, though it'd been eaten by humans for thousands of years, of being the first European to record the pecan.

 

An old harvest, native only to North America, in the hickory and walnut family--a family known for its resilience. Its common name from the Algonquin pacane--nut you need a rock to crack.

 

*


 

Every Thing Has its Time

 

A pecan that bears good fruit is nothing short of a wonder, a diseased pecan a double loss. Infested or deprived it makes a bitter half empty or bloated harvest. 

 

It begins quiet as the broad backed and barren but breeding  wind makes its waltz with slim branches.

 

Early on weevils crawl up from their dirt cells to feed and lay eggs in the young kernels. As the shells harden the larvae gnaw themselves out from their casks of stolen meat to drop to cells of dirt.

 

Casebearers, webworms, and crows. It gets rosette from zinc deficiency, mouse ear from not enough nickel.  In hard rain during the water stage the husks of the pecans may split from the sudden inrush.

                                

Parasites work their tiny jaws.  And the lightning finds the finest pecan as if by choosing. Each reaches for their own and the world works on the pecan as it does on us, without wage or rest. For hunger touches even the moon--and not for sustenance alone.

 

If a good pecan bears empty fruit,

If a dead pecan bears a rich harvest, but not of nuts, and if an old pecan

stands it long enough.

If you sleep beneath one or

if one marks your grave.

Then so be it.

 

*


 

Within the Cut

 

After many other attempts'd failed or been lost, Louisiana slave gardener Antoine found a way to graft the pecan. Using a butcher's knife in what is called the cleft graft method he made two cuts, sealing them with paraffin.

 

He grew sixteen trees of the Centennial strain, all of which were killed by yankees in the civil war who used them as firewood and horse-ties.

 

*


 

In Distance Near

 

A woman once hoarded the entire harvest of pecans. If someone would go to her, she might give them a few--but none to take home.

 

Her town became hungry and selected the most troublesome boys to steal them from her. A coyote also  took interest. Six young henchmen and the jackal 'gainst the hoarder.

 

The coyote killed her first.

 

And though many a noon since's bared such fights, quiet and starting mannered then ending, swift, the very trees curled back in terrible repose.

 

It is said since that a pecan belongs to the one who eats it.

 

*


 

 

It is Said

 

During a battle some men hid in a stand of pecans--the cannon shots rained nuts down all around them. They began to crack and eat them, with as little concern as if they were brought down by a norther.

 

You can rub them between your palms, toss them like a stone at some target or water. They make a sound like a knock at a door, if they're ripe, like a wooden spoon dropped on a empty closed pot. A sound to break some inveterate somnolence, a call. But for what.

 

When you find them, take as many as you can.

 

When you get tired and your hands are sore from cracking and perhaps some owner's caught up with you, you'll know for what and how. It was worth it.

 

 

 

*


 

Perfect Halves

 

Swiss born Gustav Duerler returned from civil war to open a confectionary specializing in pecans. He developed a method of breaking the nuts with a railroad spike and separated them  with a sack needle.

 

One year rather than gathering the nuts for sale as they had in the past, the harvesters of that region in their hurry chopped the limbs off of the trees.

 

Governor Hogg of Texas asked on his deathbed for a pecan tree instead of a stone grave marker. Distribute its seeds, he said, to the plain people of the state.

 

Four hundred shelling factories opened. They found soaking the nuts increased the number of perfect halves. In the thirties shellers earned five cents a pound, 'til twelve thousand of them, almost all women, walked off the job. The task was then mechanized.

 

Thus they begin in effort and end in force. All for a little candy and luck.  But it may be luck you need. You'll get the best flavor from a pecan you shell yourself, preferably with a railroad spike.

 

*


 

 

What is Already Sung Forth

 

Pecans are falling all over the region. Towns compete to erect the largest pecan replicas. Festivals celebrate their descent across the south. Local pecan queens shed their thin light; pies win prizes.

 

We sense there is no after afterwards. Haunted by premonitory flashes of withdrawn light, await all glory come to grip in the handle of weather.

 

Long the branch've spread their unsullen vessels, plaguing the passionless with their insistent readiness at hand.  Growls and chants in dawns past retrieval what you see here in a tree, is many years cast in kinship, work, and composition; a shipwreck lasting a long time, perhaps long enough to arrive.

 

In that dim clairvoyance of churchmen, owls, and mice we seek them out--following two and three penny proverbs overheard in the glint eyed rolled out catastrophe of chance, in the crickets' reel as in the record cabinet

 

we beg for patience in ciliate wasting plains, for time and for more of what could be made of it. Not just for sustenance, but for sweetness.

 

*


 

Sweetness and Night

 

The praline along with much else was conceived in New Orleans --a sugar cake encrusted with pecans. Buttery, delicate, but crunching it is rumored that a single such cake could sway a man suffering a broken heart from suicide.  But not a woman.

 

The origin of pecan pie is more obscure. Either the wife of a corn syrup company executive concocted it to promote the business, or it was discovered in the poor backwoods kitchens of the Mississippi Valley.  Perhaps both.

 

While the nut itself is a fine thing, sugar is what makes it tradition.

 


 

*

 

The Flesh is at the Heart of the World

 

One can hardly utter their common name without a grin but if you know them you know. It is a complicated grin. You can't break an oath made on any old pecan, any more easily than you can shuck its nuts with your teeth.

 

Tolerant of no denial long not easy not without massive undoing it comes of a lonesome and tedious making, from the mess of the fallen and dead. Embryonic hymns lapsing 'long a slow path to the body of a wooden ghost.

 

Given the way the world wears down, physical pain or long rot of abuse those who triumph don't call the pecan by its other name. They don't eat it without sugar. Can't take the metal and silt in its aftertaste. The crackwhip cry of it.

 

If you were raised in the trade to live so, not to triumph but to cuss when you want and sing when you want

 

to cry and grin as long as necessary in easy commerce with those same dead and fallen, then you too will spread broadly symmetrical thjnning light as veins at your extremities

 

so that your shape though not itself free from harm takes on the figure of such a freedom.

 

 

*

 


 

A Brief Crack of Light

 

The husk hardens as it dries, and dehiscent, splits when mature. Just as the coverings of certain recollections given enough zinc and time. From the outermost layer of its flower it forms

 

harboring the steady growth of its embryo. Developing thus, the pecan is considered a tryma, from the greek for hole, that which's been rubbed down, worn away.

 

Like in nature but different in kind than those trees in the suicide wood, that speak only through wounds. The pecan'd speak not of itself if it could. Beginning with what is cast out of eyeshot, what is trod underfoot, it engenders through distillation, encasement, time and itself a strange transformation.  

 

Holding a handful of the smooth, ripe nuts, you begin to recollect them. Here is the face of a factory worker after a metal pole from his machine thrust through his cheeks. And here a friend from youth who hung herself, laid out at her wake in a turtleneck to hide the mark, though she'd've despised such a fashion in life. Here is a blind girl raped then denied justice in court and charged for the ambulance. Here is the coach whose throat was struck by a baseball who spoke thereafter through a hole there.  Here is a father's body inseparable from his crashed plane.

 

They are still they, though this be not the face, not the dress, not the verdict, not the voice, not the grave.  The pecan proves how in new forms in this world or in that of memory they may now enjoy a different life.

 

*


 

Harvest

 

A spate of thunder lowers-to. There are no longer shots to call, forth just shifting just so.  There's only this one elapsing sound. Worn out steady, we work under a heavy star. Excising night be damned. Progeny scattered all around.  We gather first, then think.

 

A wealth of soft-hearted husks, a throng armored flesh yet suspended like ships in the sea of weather. Wild rests the dolorous churns the steady wind. It bends and kneads great bales of grass curtained leaves wet or dry puckered and lifting to drop--all is folded and ready.

 

Carefully, carefully the day lowers into night like a wicker basket full of nuts into the river. Between these lives is no ocean but a like body that forces the will asunder to no end of aching.

 

In a grove the ground cleared and cut and ready we stand grieving relatives we've never met, loves we never lost, along with those we have and will.

 

It is not wrong to remain in sorrow, but it is kept low. Our sorrow is kept too low. So we climb the trees and shake down the sound, horns drums and trumpets, declaring once again the harvest. 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                             January 12, 2014