Five Poems after ‘The Plum Tree’ by Endre Ruset

First published in NY POESI for Maintenant series (3:AM)


Plum Tree


Mine was a mother

of the malevolent variety. I was born

when she planted a tree from a cherry. It died

the day I forced my hand between Constance’s thighs.

She gave a small cry and went limp. My tree

was hollow and smelled a bit damp. My mother

was thin enough to climb inside. She stood

in the hollow as I played in the garden. I saw her hand

hanging among the low branches. I felt her eyes

looking from the tangled dead twigs. Wild pigs

chased me all over the garden. I was too

quick and clever for them. I climbed

my mother’s tree, the one her father grew

from a fruit stone. The wild pigs

grunted and dug at the roots. My mother

wouldn’t come out of the cherry bush. Her hand

went stiff in the rotting foliage. I plucked

obscenely bulging plums from her branches.

Their pink flesh tasted of Constance.

Their clear juice was sour

and stuck to my palms.



Interrogating the Plum



First pinch the skin until it splits

and pulp seeps through the slit

put your mouth to it and suck

until the skin turns inside out

and the stone deposits its gift

in a shape difficult to crack

with something written inside

which for an obvious reason

you are not permitted to see



Imagine the plum’s surprise

unzip its lustrous wallet

to an egg of greenish meat

into which category

of experience does this fit

like a tree inspecting a leaf

I held my hand at arm’s length

then sucked it back

to stroke with breath

the place the wet fruit sat

turning its scent bad

now I was learning something



From Brecht


the plum tree meanwhile is said

to stand for love and even if

it bears no fruit may be

identified by leaf



A Plum Tree Embarrasses My Mother


She wants cold plums from the fridge

plum tarts plum jam and plum cake

each spring the blossoms promise this

but when they yellow and fall the tree

stands hunched like an awkward girl

made to show everyone her underwear

and her green buds tense on the twigs

offering sour fruit that never ripens.




Plum Blossom Poem


I read that for the Chinese poets

the plum blossom which is white

and has almost no scent can

depending on its context be said

to represent solitude nobility

winter a quiet beauty a princess

woke when a plum blossom

settled on her forehead starting

the trend of the plum blossom

ornament it also has associations

of displacement and exile

the poet of the plum blossoms

studied the book of changes

until smashing in frustration

his porcelain pillow which

turned out to contain a note

correctly predicting his actions

on that precise date much later

he founded a complex system

of numerological divination

and his poem is a prophecy

from which one locates a symbol

in the outside world and also

in the heart it embarrasses me

as much as the fortune cookie

on my desk I am about to open wait

Worldly affairs are like a chess game,

whose final phase arrives early. 

The windstorm continues through the night,

but there is no need to worry.