by Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

after Susan Stewart

No one ever died for a bite
of one, or came back from the dead
for a single taste: the cool flesh
cellular or stony, white

as the belly of the winter hare
or a doe's scut, flicking,
before she mates. Even an unripe one

is delicious, its crisp bite cleaner
almost than water and its many names
just as inviting: Bartlett and Comice,

Anjou, Nashi, Concorde
and Seckel, the pomegranate-skinned
Starkrimson, even the medieval

Bosc, which looks like it dropped
from an oil painting. It is not a sin
to eat one, though you may think

of a woman's body as you do it,
the bell-shaped swell of it
rich in your hand, and for this reason

it was sacred to Venus, Juno, all women
celebrated or dismissed
in its shape, that mealy sweetness
tunneling from its center, a gold

that sinks back into itself with age.
To ripen a pear, wrap it in paper,
lay it in cloth by an open window

or slip a rotten one beside it
on a metal dish: dying cells call always
to the fresh ones, the body's

siren song that, having heard
it once, we can't stop singing.
This is not the fruit

that will send you to hell
nor keep you there;
it will not give you knowledge,

childbirth, power, or love;
you won't know more pain
for having eaten one, or choke
on a bite to fall asleep

under glass. It has no use
for archer or hero, though
anything you desire from an apple

you can do with the pear, like a dark sister
with whom you might live out
your secret desires. Cook it

in wine, mull it with spices, roast it
with honey and cloves. Time sweetens
and we taste it, so gather the fruit

weeks before ripeness,
let summer and winter both
simmer inside, for it is

a fall fruit whose name in China
means separation, though only the fearful
won't eat one with those they love.

To grow a tree from seed,
you'll need a garden
and a grafting quince, bees, a ladder,

shears, a jug; you'll need water
and patience, sun and mud,
a reverence for the elders

who told no true stories
of this fruit's origin,
wanting to give us the freedom
of one thing that's pleasure alone.

Cool and sweet, cellular and stony,
this is the fruit I'll never die for,
nor come back from the dead

for a single taste.
The juice of the pear
shines on my cheeks.

There's no curse in it. I'll eat
what I like and throw the rest
to the grasses. The seeds

will find whatever soils they were meant for.

Last updated August 26, 2022