Jennifer Franklin: “Memento Mori: Apple Orchard”


In the golden light of early October, we climb
the orchard hills searching empty trees
for apples. The boy at the gate tells us Ida Red,
Rome, Crispin, and Surprise are all ripe
and ready for our hands. We walk and walk.
The dog investigates every fallen apple
with her frantic nose. Even as we savor
the autumnal sunlight of our beginning,
it is the end of almost everything else. Large
families have picked the trees clean, leaving
plastic bottles and paper napkins blowing
like white flags. I want the fragrant apples
on the ground to remind me of my mother baking
but I catch the smell of decay.

I catch the smell of decay
as we walk through so many rows
of stubby trees that we cannot find our way
back to the car. We do not say what we’re thinking—
if we leave without a single apple, it might mean
what we do to the earth cannot be undone.
The children who grow up on the ruined planet
will not remember pulling the russet fruit
from a branch to bite into the sweet flesh. We see
boys throw bruised apples at each other. Still children,
they already know what is damaged becomes a weapon.
As we pull away, we watch them run the worn paths.
Their masks fall as they bend to collect
the blemished apples and fill their empty bags.

Jennifer Franklin is the author of No Small Gift (Four Way Books, 2018) and If Some God Shakes Your House (Four Way Books, 2023). Her poems appear in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, JAMA, Love’s Executive Order, The Nation, New England Review, Paris Review, Plume, “poem-a-day” on, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She teaches in Manhattanville’s MFA program and the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she serves as Program Director.

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