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Death Apples

Bruce Meyer
From:   Fiddlehead (184) Summer, 1995 pg 42-43


The leaves, bark, and fruits of the Manchineel tree contain a caustic sap which may be injurious if touched. The trees are common along Caribbean shores. Avoid contact with any part of this tree.
              — roadside sign, St. John

She talks to herself in dialect,
and if you listen she will mention
a son in New York, a daughter
in Miami, a brother driving cab
through a snowy Canadian storm.
Tides that surround this place
tell her of those scattered hearts,
the tug of what is left behind
balanced against a living wage.

If it rain today, the woman
says as she sits in the shade
of an almond-leafed tree,
I think I suffer from all
the pain made of mankind,
and crosses herself earnestly
and closes her brown eyes.
Oh my Madonna of the islands,
do not weep for us this way.

And when the rains come
in mid-afternoon, falling
in shattered silver tears
from a heaven that bleeds
for paradise, the market empties,
the tourists vanish, the buses
depart. Everything grows

in a riot of wild old green
and the earth stinks mightily.

When Columbus arrived here
he named the manchineel fruit
death apples, and slaughtered
the Arawaks who brought him
food for his hungry sailors.
For every paradise there is
a fall, a time when time
begins, a loss where sudden pain
rushes to fill the vacuum

as storm clouds fill an empty
sky. Thin white beaches braid
the inlets. Snorklers stumble
in the current ripping reefs.
Tall ships sail by diffidently.
Come to the country of Eden,
say the posters. Taste the exotic.
The woman beneath the tree
is selling a beautiful fruit.



Bruce Meyer's works copyright © to the author.


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