This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.
Angel’s Apple Blossom
I saw Angel today.
He sat slumped in the driver’s seat of his sagging brown truck in the General Store parking lot at ten in the morning guzzling beer from a 24 oz. can. His head waggled and seemed disjointed from his neck. His red eyes blazed. When I jumped out of my car and tried, after all these years, to finally thank him he waved me away with a wobbly hand.
“No, no, no.”
What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?
I had hired Angel one winter to mow my grass and pull weeds, to prune my roses and feed the orange trees. He did those things sporadically and not very well. His strength was drinking beer and surprising me with gifts. His specialty was to plant what appeared to be utterly dead fruit trees in my yard.
“The other house, no want,” he told me the first day I came home to find a bony trunk with naked branches staked on the fringe of my grass.
“What is it?” I asked.
Angel spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.
“What kind of fruit?”
He spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.
Slowly a patchwork orchard emerged in my backyard. Angel murmured to the branches as he hand watered the circles of dirt around each tree. When he caught me watching him, he smiled broadly.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
“Is it alive?”
Angel nodded, always yes.
“What kind of tree?” He spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.
Each tree ignored my need for it to prove its place by greening, then blooming on any proper schedule. I researched the rhythm of bare root fruit, but spring didn’t bring an end to the mystery. The trees remained unfazed as earth turned toward blooming season. I stopped inspecting the branches after a while and began instead to consider how hard it might be to pull up dead trees.
Then one damp night I was restless and wandering, wanting stars.
Solitary at midnight in my backyard…
Angel’s first tree shimmered in the moonlight. I walked up to it and swear I heard trumpets. What I had missed all those days, looking from afar at the branches barren of leaves was the riot of ruffled pink popcorn pearls pinned on slick branches. Tight blossoms were poised this night to begin a wild unfurling.
What could I imagine eating sun-warm some months from now? What might I capture in jam jars to tie with red gingham?
Earth! you seem to look for something at my hands,
Say, old top-knot, what do you want?
The next time I saw Angel and showed off our blossoms he smiled, more bemused at my excitement than joyful for the harvest. He never doubted fruit would come.
A peach tree.
For seven years Angel tended our slowly growing orchard. His faith in the indiscernible life hiding within brown leafless branches scavenged from other yards was impeccable. Then one day Angel stopped coming. Yet every now and then a new barren tree would appear in my backyard and I would look over my shoulder, half expecting him to be squatting at the base of the apple tree, his favorite spot, humming absently.
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
I began to wonder if I’d imagined the man. When he called himself Angel was that a name or his being? I took over the care and feeding of the trees and silently thanked him with each basket of ripe fruit I brought into my kitchen. I shared the bounty with neighbors and told them about how Angel showed me that you could save a thing by moving it to the right home and tending it with water and words. Was I creating a myth?
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean…
Today as I walk back to my car, rebuffed, I turn my palms to the sky and shrug. Driving away, I wonder: If I could plant Angel in my backyard would he bloom again?
Angel’s Apple Tree
I exist as I am, that is enough…
Imagining you in health and sun,
Note: The words in italics come from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself (1881). Today would be Whitman’s 193rd birthday. If you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting New York this Sunday, June 3, you can participate in the Ninth Annual Walt Whitman Marathon Reading of “Song of Myself.” For more information about the man, the poet, or events at Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in West Hills, NY, visit http://www.waltwhitman.org/