Claudia Emerson: Second Bearing, 1919

This is the most recent poem to make me catch my breath, it’s so real. Part of it is that it is a story recounted and recounted, and yet never worn out. Something in that line “I have asked him to tell it.”

Part of it is this idea of a second bearing, beyond expectation, an almost supernatural hope. There’s a peach tree in my own life like this, 60 years old and counting, nearly hollowed by lightning– and still bearing fruit. There’s a poem I’ve tried to write for many years about this tree.

There’s the strange innocence and resilience of the tree. The doom inside of sweetness, mortality. It seems to tell the story of the world– fallen humanity, our poor stewardship of the earth– and there’s also something human about the peach itself: sweetness and death, mixed. It’s the strangest poem.


Second Bearing, 1919
      for my father

by Claudia Emerson

I have asked him to tell it– how
he heard the curing barn took hours

to burn, the logs thick, accustomed
to heat– how, even when it was clear all

was lost, the barn and the tobacco
fields within it, they threw water

instead on the nearby peach tree,
intent on saving something, sure,

though, the heat had killed it, the bark
charred black. But in late fall, the tree

broke into bloom, perhaps having
misunderstood the fire to be

some brief, backward winter. Blossoms
whitened, opened. Peaches appeared

against the season– an answer,
an argument. Word carried. People

claimed the fruit was sweeter for being
out of time. They rode miles to see it.

He remembers by grandfather
saying, his mouth full, this is

a sign, and the one my father
was given to eat– the down the same,

soft as any other, inside
the color of cream, juice clear

as water, but wait, wait; he holds
his cupped hand up as though for me

to see again there is no seed,
to pit to come to– that it is

infertile, and endless somehow.

-from Late Wife, LSU Press, 2005

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