This carriage balks of fumed oak, she complains,
but there’s rain and her home is on my way,
so she accepts and climbs in.
Wet driver ‘crops on horsehinds and we roll.
My fingers, fresh from orange peel, press
acid etched glass and just beyond,
the cloud glaze makes clay paste of the road.
I fill my mouth with fruit; she’s hungry,
I know, but in a vague way
and without pain. We can go all the way
[to the funerals] my dear lady,
or you can just wait on the carriage benchseat
in your clingy skirt with the corduroy
cushion cutting treads down your backside,
but she declines. The horse team pounds slipsod,
mounting the jut, while to each roadside,
the dead sing whitelipped, craggle and sligh.
I pull on the window, tossing orange peels out.
I’m pumped in my fingersuit, primed
to eat the plums, jam be damned.
I’d even consider offering one,
but here she’s buttonhooked, tied like luck
and looking only to puddle leap home.
She’s quail and tummy rumbles;
I’m knocking tooth to pit
as we pound around the bend.
Here’s the family estate now: stonework and ivy,
maze of hedgerows, while inside,
the housemaid pulls large loaves from a cast iron.
The smell of bread is heaven.
Let me come inside.
Funerary bells are ringing in the village;
the horses are restless, but I don’t want to leave.
It’s been raining a while.
My fruit’s all gone
and you’re cute as a hat.
* * * * *
I wrote "Fruit to a Funeral" quite a few years ago. At the time, I was in a small writing group that tried to meet every week or two around Minneapolis and St. Paul. The group had already gone on for some time at the point when I brought "Fruit to a Funeral" for critique. I felt like I was opening a new door in my writing, as though I was beginning to access a more subconscious or intuitive approach to writing. There are images in this poem that don't make sense, images that seem to say one thing while suggesting another interpretation. This was also an early example of me making up words, or using real words incorrectly to imply a certain meaning. Since the writing of this poem, these things have become much more dominant in my work. My writing group, as I recall, liked the cinematic imagery, but had some trouble with the made-up words, with needing to make sense of the fruit, and with the italicized lines. When I was at the Vermont Studio Center in January 2007, I shared this poem with the other writers doing residencies at that time. One writer read the poem and commented, "You're one weird dude." I was delighted.
Here's the story as I see it:
A wealthy man in a horse drawn carriage offers a lift to a woman who is walking along the road on a drizzly day. He's eating fruit. He travels along with the woman, and he's attracted to her, not so much in a physical sense, but more in a sense of home, security, fitting in. these things he implicitly lacks despite his wealth (and power?). The man longs for these things. At the end, he implores her to take him into her "home" and feed him the warm and fresh bread that's so close he can smell it. He's acutely aware of his age, the "rain" that has been falling for some time now, and the closeness of death represented by the tolling of the bells in the village. He's taken a slight diversion from his journey toward the funeral, and more than anything, he wants to hold onto the fleeting moment of respite. Does she take him in? I don't know. What do you think?
First published in:
THE FULCRUM: LITERATURE AND ARTS JOURNAL, Volume 8 Spring 2005