poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 3, 2016.
About this Poem 

“While I’ve never been a conventionally religious or spiritual person, increasingly I’ve had to admit that the greatest joys I experience—whether writing poetry or loving someone—are at heart utterly unbidden, uncontrollable and mysterious. My life is built on living with and cultivating a kind of faith I can hardly articulate; this poem is the closest I have come to it.”
—Paisley Rekdal

Psalm

Too soon, perhaps, for fruit. And the broad branches,
ice-sheathed early, may bear none. But still the woman
waits, with her ladder and sack, for something to break.
A gold, a lengthening of light. For the greens to burst
into something not unlike flame: the pale fruit
blushing over weeks through the furred cleft creases:
a freckling of blood. Then the hot, sweet scent
of August rot, drawing wasps and birds and children
through the month. So much abundance, and the only cost
waiting. Looking at the tree, I almost expect the sound of bells,
a stone church, sheep in flocks. But no sound of bells,
no clarion call. The church is far down in the valley.
This tree should be a revered thing, placed at the ancient
heart of a temple. Instead, it is on a common
lot, beside a road, apartment buildings, a dog
sleeping in its yard.  The woman has come here
neither as master nor supplicant. She simply plans
to fill a plastic sack with whatever she can take:
the sweet meat giving under the press of a thumb,
covering what is its true fruit: the little pit, hard
and almond-brown that I’ve scooped out,
palmed and planted, but to no avail. A better gardener
could make demands of such a seed, could train a tree
for what desire anticipates. But here the tree grows
only for itself. And if it bears no fruit for the killing
frost, or if it flowers late because of a too-warm winter,
what debt am I owed? At whose feet should I lay
disappointment? Delight no more comforting
nor wounding than hunger. The tree traffics
in a singular astonishment, its gold tongues
lolling out a song so rich and sweet, the notes
are left to rot upon the pavement. Is this the only religion
left to us? Not one only of mortification or desire,
not one of suffering, succor, not even of pleasure.
The juice of summer coils in the cells. It is a faith
that may not come to more than waiting.
To insist on pleasure alone is a mark
of childishness. To believe only in denial
the fool’s prerogative. You hunger
because you hunger. And the tree calls to this.
But the fruit is real. I have eaten it. Have plucked
and washed and cut the weight, and stewed it
with sugar and lemon peel until the gold
ran rich and thick into jars. I have spooned it
over bread and meat. I have sucked it
from my husband’s fingers. I have watched it sour
in its pots until a mist of green bubbled up
for a crust. I have gathered and failed it, as the tree
for me both ripens and fallows. But now, it is perhaps
too soon for fruit. The winter this year was hard,
the air full of smokes, and do I know if spring
reached the valley in time? Who planted this tree?
How long has it stood here? How many more years
can such a thing remain? The woman reaches a hand
up into the branches, palm cupped, weighing
the leaf knots. She is looking to see
what instincts, what weathers still grow here.
She snakes her hand through the greening branches.
Up from the valley, come the golden tongues of bells.

Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is the author of Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), among others. She lives in Salt Lake City.

by this poet

poem
unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And
poem
How horrible it is, how horrible
that Cronenberg film where Goldblum's trapped

with a fly inside his Material
Transformer: bits of the man emerging

gooey, many-eyed; bits of the fly
worrying that his agent's screwed him–

I almost flinch to see the body later
that's left its fly in the corner, I mean

the fly
poem

In the perfect universe of math it’s said
the world’s eternal aberration.
In fact, we should be less than dead,

math itself disrupted for matter ever to be read
as real. A thought so hard to fathom that The Nation
in its article on math has said

we lack the right imagination