Hello readers! Every week, the BOA staff shares one of our favorite poems from our over 300 collections of poetry. This week's poem from Janice N. Harrington's Poulin Prize-winning collection Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone harkens back to the rural South shortly before the Civil Rights Era as an unnamed black woman labors to preserve the autumn harvest for her family.
Kneeling, she leans onto one hand
and with the other pushes apple slices
and rings of apple, spreading them
wide across flattened flour sacks
beneath the heat and desiccant air.
Even sweetness is labored for, even
this moment disturbed only by distant
sawing, only by a crow's desolation,
and by her hand moving out, around
and out again, unsettling the morning hour.
Earlier, she snapped wennish apples
from their stems and dropped them
into a bushel basket. She washed them
with well water, throwing aside the ones
that floated, the ones too wormy. She sat
in a straight-backed chair beneath a pin oak
with paring knife and five-gallon tub,
curling away the blotchy peel, stabbing
seeds and woody stem, cutting away
the spoil and all that was not pap or apple
Now, unworried, she presses a papery sliver
against her tongue, holding its wedge
between brown lips—an epistle
that life is reach and bend, is arm, is leg,
is back, is imperfect, is rot and worm,
is too small, is not enough; it is bitten,
it is chewed and sucked, it is swallowed
or spat out, and it is sweet, it is sweet, it is sweet.
Now she spreads apples atop a shed
she built herself, atop its slanted roof,
spreading and smoothing pats of appley
flesh that will wither and dry, wither
and brown. She will shuffle the pulpy
ruffles into cotton sacks, reduced
and earlike, ears filling both palms,
relics of a martyred saint or the wizened
tongues of castrati singing hush hush hush,
but . . . no, they are only apples
only dried apples in a flour sack
light and easy to carry, a bounty set aside,
preserved for need or long winter
or an appetite that craves splendor—
not its shape but its remembrance.
Janice N. Harrington will join the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Founder’s Project for a reading and conversation at the SPACE GALLERY in Portland, ME, this Friday, November 17, at 7 PM. Click here to learn more or to find a BOA author event near you.
Submit your manuscript for the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize.