This book perched
in his fingers
like a bird.
It is a season of apples. Bright globes dangling like buckets descending into a well's secret waters. I see him from the kitchen window. Reading in the orchard.
And always the sense that I have assembled myself from whatever stray words fall from his lips, the way stars assemble themselves into frog eggs in a night sky.
And then, by day, a reluctance to be his son. Summer floating above us in a lethargic sea. The sun burning its hole in the noon sky.
Then later him handing me the burlap sack, pushing the ladder to the thin trunk. Reminding me that an apple that is ready won't resist. Will come away willingly, fall into the palm the way a lover does.
And so this girl who is new to us this season. Who rises out of the humidity like gnats above the tall grass. Is visible in her yard, sunbathing with her doppelgänger sister. Riding a bike. Sitting on a stone retaining wall, bare feet dangling.
Or say she is the sound of the mower she pushes through her front yard. Or say I am hollowed out—Werther in Weimar, dreaming of Lotte.
All, it seems, accidental: the way we exchange words on the street—imagine an impatient bounty of fruit drooping the limbs. This heart that flits from perch to perch, restless and chattering.
Or then: she is the scaffolding that holds each day in place. This tidal rising as though the days float in a great prairie sea.
Of course he disapproves. Freudin, he says, the way you would pluck a green worm from the apple's meat.
I take her to hear his lecture at the college on Schiller and Goethe. The German words stones in his mouth. He reads in English, My days are as happy as those reserved by God for his elect; and whatever be my fate hereafter, I can never say that I have not tasted joy—the purest joy of life.
But there's a smirk to go with it, a slight shrug of the head.
And then, to me at home he quotes first in German, then translates: What is to come of all this wild, aimless, endless passion?
Yet here's the thing: I am a wasp worrying the decaying fruit in the orchard. Getting drunk on vinegar. Watching her stepping toward me.
Then my father playing Schubert again and again at two or three in the morning. His glasses of red wine, his migraines, his insomnia. His books open and placid in his hand—swans on a windless lake.
And his voice following each time she and I sneak into the orchard after dark. Her body like climbing an apple tree, sitting in the crook of the limbs.
And then the passages my father has made me memorize and recite over the years. As though Die Leiden des jungen Werthers is a cautionary psalm. The asking for the two pistols. Blödsinnig, my father says in my head, the way you push a shovel into loose dirt.
And so the heart's muscle that flexes itself into the clenched fist. To strip down to the apple's core. Summer is nearly over, I say to her. School will start soon. There are books to be reading.
So now the memory of one distant August night when my father's insomnia sent him walking into the orchard. The moonlight anointing him in salt or milk. How he passed within ten feet of the canal where we were naked as peeled apples.
Freudin, I heard the footsteps saying.
into the sky