What You Call It

What You Call it | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Late George Cling Peaches, a photograph by Carleton E. Watkins. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

Not my usual route to the market—past
the railroad tracks, then past

Grace Episcopal Church,
its courtyard empty—no men

clasping hands as though agreeing,
finally, to the difficult terms

of some treaty—so I would not
have known it was a peach tree

unless the person who planted it
or someone on the street

told me. Which is not to say
its fruit didn’t look

peach-like—it did…
rather I didn’t read it as such, didn’t

know what I was
seeing, really—from where I stood

the fruit perfect and young
and heavy, at least heavy enough

to bow the branches, though hardly
ready yet to eat. Ripe,

one might say, which, true,
is more precise—precision

a thing of value. Not that
the fruit cares what you call it.

Or stands for anything
other than what time can make

of some small human intervention.
Is no piece of literature.

The peach was simply a peach,
and there for the taking,

which is often said of an object that has gone
unwatched for too long, susceptible

to trespass, which happens
first in the mind, and happened first

because of fruit,
or so says The Good Book

if you believe in such things. Knowledge,
which a poet once called “historical,” too

a trespassing of sorts, the proof of which
perhaps best shown in how one

might punish a slave who had been
taught to read the word beauty or toil

or rest, secretly, and by firelight.
There are things nearly impossible

to forget, having so trespassed,
having badly needed to see up close

this tree fixed in place, its fruit

within reach, though not
the same as being offered.

Tenderness, I have learned,
is only one test

of whether some fruit
has fully ripened. You

press the flesh right here. But for me,
that would mean crossing

half the yard the way a paper boat
might be pushed, by wind, across a pond.

Nathan McClain is the author of Scale, and his next collection is forthcoming from Four Way Books in the fall of 2022. He teaches at Hampshire College.
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