I was stopped on the sidewalk by pears
glowing on their tree like antique ornaments
with flaking paint, a green metallic shimmer,
hinting at yellow, mottled with a few flecks of red.
As light flickered over them, they seemed
to flutter like candles in the leaves.
But no—they were pears, and probably hard,
I told myself, probably inedible and holding
their juices tight, if they had juices at all.
Besides, something was pitting them like brass,
splotching, as if trying to spoil. Still, I wanted them.
I wanted that September light fingering each fruit,
so it seemed lit from without and within,
a fleshy tallow. I wanted the season’s clock
stopped before the next strike, stopped
in this amber afternoon, my walk halfway,
the shiny leaves just starting to curl,
but still far from falling, and the pears
half hidden among them like birds singing
so sweetly you step closer, peer in,
careful, careful, wanting to touch that song,
but not spoil it. I stood there wanting
to hoard time, a thief trying to steal
a song I couldn’t hear, a fool believing
there’s something sweet that won’t disappoint,
that pears in the hand could be anything
like pears dreamed in the mind, or a moment
stopped could be kept from rotting.
But what’s so bad, a thief will ask: How is
plucking a piece of fruit worse than worms
tunneling in, or bees sating themselves
on that honeyed light, or mold blotching it?
Surely a saint has an answer to that,
something about how too much sweetness spoils,
or there’s another sweetness that grows within.
For weeks I went back and forth, stopping
at the tree, watching first one pear let go
of its limb, then many begin to fall,
flickering briefly like coals in the grass
before they shrivel, letting their seeds slip out.
“That’s the way it goes,” mutters the thief.
“As scripture says they must,” muses the saint,
while a few last pears glow on their brittle stems,
and the wind-strummed boughs bend toward earth.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.