The World According to Apples

A poem by George Venn

George Venn reading his poem ‘The World According to Apples’, specially recorded for Apples & People.

Published the year after George retired from university teaching, the poem ‘The World According to Apples’ first appeared in Windfall, Fall 2003, an Oregon literary quarterly. It was later reprinted in Lichen Songs: New and Selected Poems (2017). The poem expands on an earlier work, which dramatised the dispute between the demand for commercially perfect fruit and the dangers of pesticides. The earlier poem had cast this dispute in a brief supermarket conversation. Here, the speaker meditates on the full cycle of the apple’s experience of natural process.

The World According to Apples

George Venn

Two thousand green apples hang on the tree,
enough to break its branches down.
I thin a thousand one May afternoon
to save the tree and bring my harvest home.

June nights, silent gray moths mate
in the limbs, then one female flutters
blossom to blossom in the dark, lays
her tiny eggs in nearly every fruit.

One July afternoon, huge anvil clouds
arise, white hailstones thunder down,
shredding leaves, bruising half the fruit,
bringing down what can’t hold on.

August days, the red squirrels walk
the tightrope telephone lines, scamper
through the tree, nibble, taste the green
skins, let fall the sour on their tongues.

September and color coming on, blue
jay, starling, flicker, magpie fill the red
fruit with birdpecks everywhere—
a free feast they keep up for weeks.

October. Windfalls red in dying grass.
I leave them there for the doe and her
twin fawns sneaking down the mountain
every night, eating every apple up.

Today, I pick the remnant fruit, cut out
bruises, birdpecks, worms, cook one batch
of butter, make one pie to eat, one poem
to make it sweet—à la mode.

My harvest mostly lost, the tree, at least, is whole.
One more year, I gave my life away to hunger.
All winter I will see these apples I let go
fly and feed and pray around me in the snow.

George, who is known as the ‘literary lion’ of La Grande, Oregon, USA, describes something of the apple context for his poem:

“The trees of life come true everywhere I lived. From my childhood room I could always see those six scions Scots Grandfather Fyfe planted by the lake, and one spring, Irish beekeeper Grandfather Mayo planted one Yellow Transparent sapling he hauled home from those thousand new Delicious orchards across the mountains. That tree was my Grandmother’s favourite. Windfall nights on the farm, she lit fire crackers and threw them out her bedroom window to scare away the thieving doe. (There was always a contest over those gifts of fruit.)

As a man, I settled in a remnant orchard south of town. I knew I’d come to the right place to bring husbandry to six ancient beauties–Winter Bananas and Old Jonathans. For twenty four years, I loved those limbs and felt their heartwood speak to my core.  Trees rooted at the center of the world hold the cycles of the fructifying soul.”

George, 79, is recognised as a distinguished figure in western American literature.

He is poet, writer, literary historian and emeritus professor of English at East Oregon University

Thanks to:

  • Helena Cavan for the introduction to her uncle George. Helena was commissioned by Apples & People in 2021 to compose a short musical piece for piano and apple crunch
  • Luke McKern for recording George’s reading
  • Stephani Stephenson for permission to use her photograph of George
  • George Venn for his eloquent words in this article for the Journal of Apples, and for reading his poem