GIRL EATING A POMEGRANATE
She tastes a sweet aril,
then digs out a spoonful, and another,
till the leathery shell is empty.
Sipping the juice through a straw,
heaping a pyramid of seeds on the plate,
my granddaughter is still young
to hear that a girl
gave us winter by eating
six pomegranate seeds.
How could I tell a child with a cell phone,
in tears whenever her mother is late--
about that separation--
now only a small, dried pomegranate
my daughter has found
among her saved things.
I see this painting of an orchard
as the vision of a young Chinese peasant
closing her eyes after a day's work.
Even though she was half asleep, she saw
a panoply of trees, each persimmon
an orange globe in the dark leaves.
Girls on ladders are picking them;
or cutting them from lower branches
with long-handled knives; others carry
basketfulls to an open space for sorting.
I imagine the persimmons gleaming,
although red-orange paint is just
poster paint and does not gleam.
The artist, whose work I chose from a pile
on the porch of a provincial museum
and bought for one yuan, could be that girl
in jeans and pink smock, and those
are her friends in the picture; the boy
pulling a laden cart is perhaps
a boy she would like to marry.
All this unscrolling under her brush
she attributes to the Planning Committee.
But her transparent washes in pink and green
say: nothing is ever perfectly obvious.
And her perspective happens to be
from above the wooded orchard,
looking over the nearest trees
out into persimmon distance, as if
to observe from an ancestral point of view,
to give pleasure, to be abstract.
How could I know, flying west
over snow-harrowed fields,
the Sangre de Cristos,
and landing in the desert,
the day still before me,
that my friends would take me
to a mission built in New Spain,
to this saint from my childhood,
hale and vigilant,
in real cloth -- full sleeved
white surplice, biretta,
soutane, holding a cross,
and waiting for his Indians,
who enter quietly
with infants and children,
one tribe among the many
who suffer the loss of their world,
and pray, in the intimate height
and harrowing brightness
of the angel-guarded grotto,
to keep their souls.
We were a gray-haired audience
expecting young Keats to read
“The Nightingale,” and disappointed
that he did not—he might have been
any young man facing early death—
a small figure in a white shirt,
reciting with such candor, such gusto
the certainties of his life,
a poet coming to meet himself
in a drop of arterial blood.
Walking from the station that cold night,
I had my neighbors for company.
At his door one of them shook my hand
and told me, after all the anonymous years,
“My name is Paul.”
Next day a hurt starling fell out of the yews
and I saw close-up the bronze-green feathers
flecked with winter stars.
Before the week was out
we heard that Paul had thrown himself in front of a train.
In gusting snow his screen door blows
open and shut, where last summer,
back from the Marines,
he sat in the sun with his mother.
Apple branches at my bedroom window
framing the angles of neighboring eaves.
Tree with a flock of starlings where the leaves were,
standing in fog on an autumn morning.
Green spires of poplars sighing for the young man
drowned in a deep lake.
Great elms, yellow as elm ancestors that fell,
fading into the whiteness behind gables:
They hide nothing from themselves;
they simply multiply their arms, hands, fingers.
And in this way, doing nothing,
they get to the bottom of their thoughts.*
How would the world live without soliloquy,
world most conflicted and denied?
Joseph thrown down the well, called to the desert sky
and on his stalk of words, climbed out.
* Francis Ponge
Copyright © 2014 Cornelia
Veenendaal, one of the founders of Alice James
Books, published two collections with the press: The
Siberian Railway, and Green Shaded Lamps. A third
What Seas What Shores, was published by the Rowan
Tree Press. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Hanging
Loose, Sojourner, Prairie Schooner, Soundings East,
Ekphrasis, and other journals.
She taught for 25 years at the University of Massachusetts
Boston. After living in Massachusetts most of her life,
beside the ocean, she has just moved to the White Mountains
of New Hampshire.
Photo by Miriam Goodman