“After Apple-Picking” by Melanie Power, from Arc’s 2020 Shortlist

After Apple-Picking

On Saturday mornings, the night before is
smudged under your eyelids, makeup in shades
of bruises. You slurp Pepto-Bismol, its pink
milk cools the acid that chews and broils your
insides. Some people come here for the apples,
some for the photos. We pull out our rusty
French for the locals like we are back in junior
high, passing notes under desks, perpetually
learning passé composé. The past, it seems, can be
an event ongoing or an event complete. Working
nights as a busser means it’s been months since
you saw the sky this early— at which point, you
ask, did I start loving mornings? The chill of
stillborn autumn in the air and some feeling
I’ve outgrown. At which point does the way we
know someone become a coat that no longer
keeps them warm? It feels antique to be out of
the city, picking our own MacIntosh, Lobo, Gala,
Spartan. The way we laugh is a well-worn path.
We climb the ladders to orchestrate candid poses,
laying later in a row of Cortlands, thumbing our
phones. Sneaking covert bites, we post photos
to our feeds to harvest the likes. On the tractor ride,
we are interlopers amongst honeyed couples, their
model kids; your eyes roll at my routine bitterness.
Before driving back, you sampled every cider in eyeshot
of my fledgling sobriety. The city we grew up in was
small as an orchard, wide as its own country. The apples
we got lasted long after we stopped talking. To spare
them from rot, I converted pounds of them into
jars of frozen applesauce.

Nancy Jo Cullen on “After Apple-Picking”

There is a lot of energy packed into this short poem that juxtaposes two journeys, the classic weekend apple picking day-trip and the unfurling of a relationship. The reader is drawn into a recollection of uncoupling that ironically unfolds amongst the “honeyed couples and model children,” from which the narrator and her companion are excluded. Here the poet packs the commonplace experience with a sense of alienation that reverberates throughout the poem and like the passé compose the end of the relationship is an event complete and an event ongoing.

Melanie Power’s poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in The Malahat Review, Grain, Riddle Fence, Room, Prairie Fire, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize, was a finalist for The Malahat Review‘s 2020 Open Season Awards, and placed third in The Antigonish Review‘s 2019 Great Blue Heron Contest. Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, she now lives in Montreal.

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