By Catherine Keefe.
“It’s alright, a farmer’s market is for learning,” says the tall, lean, tan farmer from Fresno.
He is dicing ripe peaches into tasting pieces and smiles at the mother who we both just overheard tell her barely-tall-enough-to-reach-the-top-of-the-table toddler daughter not to grab samples with her hand. The mom returns his smile and offers her daughter a toothpick to grab sections of the juicy yellow fruit.
“So if the farmer’s market is for learning,” I say to the farmer, “can you please tell me something?”
“These samples are ripe, fragrant and juicy, but the fruit you’re offering for sale doesn’t even smell like fruit.”
The patient farmer explains about having to perfectly time his picking date to take into account his driving time and how you never want to refrigerate stone fruit that’s waiting to ripen or it will become mealy, but how he needs to be able to offer fruit for sale that isn’t past its prime.
“If I picked it perfectly ripe, it would be spoiled by market day. But here’s what you do. Store stone fruit stem down, maybe for a day or two, until it gives slightly when you gently squeeze. Then it’s ripe.”
I bought peaches and plums on faith on Sunday. By Wednesday, I learned that I can trust this farmer and wonder how I’ve lived through so many summers without knowing how to perfectly ripen a peach, a nectarine, or a plum.
What are you waiting for? What art and knowledge are you bringing to the ticks of time separating now from then?
As you wait for whatever it is, here’s a delicious peach poem by Lee Sharkey, one of my favorite quietly strong poets. This poem, “”Its roundness curving to a cleft” is found in Lee’s full-length book, Calendars of Fire, although it was first published, in a different version, in dirtcakes, a beautiful literary journal I founded in 2010 and am patiently waiting to figure out how to revive. Poems too, need to ripen. The edits Lee made between the dirtcakes version and the poem in Calendars of Fire, published three years later, show that one of the greatest bounties of wait time is knowing how to use it well.
Its roundness curving to a cleft by Lee Sharkey
I offer a child a perfect peach
pulled from the shadows nesting in a bin of peaches
Mourning dolls hold crosses fashioned of twigs and string
their cheks pinked, kohl eyes veiled by fishnet
A golden morning long-winged wasp approaching
from the amber mountain Que vergüenza la guerra!
A peach, then, without blemish when ripeness is upon it
for her to memorize and tear its velvet cheek (for him to memorize and tear its
When someone in the future makes an offering to the heart
its ever-moment passes, hand to hand
Reticence the shell, joy the nutmeat
The skin reluctance, joy the open mouth
With peach juice on my chin,