Saturday, July 09, 2022

Red Letter Poem #118

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.  To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner





Red Letter Poem #118





Even without clocks, without calendar pages, this succession of time-keepers: the reddening maples; the first frost; the mid-season snowbanks towering and, later on (greeted with a feeling of elation), the melting away of that last soot-streaked drift.  The first snowdrops (not precipitation but Galanthus nivalis with its pale dangling bells) and those pert spears of crocus, both defying the cold and seeming to demand a seasonal rebirth.  The fanfare of our weeping cherry tree announces spring to me; but when the blossoms crowd the branches of our gnarly old apple, I know summer has taken hold – and this year, I used that signal as a reminder: get Lynne Viti’s new poem ready for the Red Letters.  Though it mentions harvest in the title, the poem is really a much larger horological mechanism, keeping track of the year (or vast stretches of years.)  It was triggered, the poet let me know, at the outset of the pandemic when all our notions about time were eviscerated: some hours lasted for a week; and then whole months evaporated, seemingly while our backs were turned.  We were all suddenly children again, immersed in (or adrift upon) the fitful current of the days, thinking that if we could just muster a little more patience all this would be over and sweet normalcy return.  And then, eyes blinking, the leaves were suddenly swept from the trees, the snows returned, and our heads spun dizzily.


Yet, as chronometer, a poem is a strangely comforting device; it reassures us somehow that the present experience is neither unique nor unprecedented in the long ages – and that, if we keep our eyes open (and our hearts available to what is passing through us), there is indeed a harvest to be made and a moment to be savored.  Lynne, born and raised in Baltimore, is the proud daughter of a Highlandtown tavern owner and a schoolteacher.  She is a senior lecturer emerita in the Writing Program at Wellesley College where she taught for three decades.  The author of several poetry titles and a collection of short fiction, her work has appeared in over 150 journals and anthologies.  The Cornerstone Press/Portage Poetry Series will bring out her new book, The Walk To Cefalù, (I was about to write at the close of September, 2022, but I’ll say instead) when my dogwoods begin going bronze and the first over-anxious geese appear high overhead honking southward.




Apple Harvest



Spring’s explosion brought bees and hoverflies.

The insect army probed and dusted the old trees.


While we complained about lockdown,

the closing of gyms, the ballpark’s empty seats,

the sluggishness of mail delivery,

all the while the pollinators were at it.

In April, they clocked in at sunrise.


By July, rain had disappeared.

The trees dropped small red apples

not much bigger than walnuts— scores of fruit.

One branch was so laden with apples


It split from the tree. When crows,

chipmunks, any fruitarian in search of a snack

took a bite and left the sampled fruit to rot,

we tossed it into the neighbor’s woods.


We watered the trees on a slow drip, fifteen gallons

three times a week—the windfall subsided,

the rest of the fruit grew bigger, redder.

Neighbor children came to pick apples.


A man took the bruised ones for his chickens,

a young couple said they’d use our rejects

for smoothies—this went on for weeks

until the day came when I poked at the top branches

with my pole, pulled down the final harvest—


red apples of normal size, easily polished

ready for their star turn on Instagram.

We made apple crisp, apple pie, apple cake,

apple sauce, apple brown betty, we munched on apples.


That winter we strained to find a way through

the stew of conflict, hate, and suffering,

our daily dose of news, fake news, fact checks.

We canceled paper delivery, upped our screen time,

had groceries delivered, shrunk our holidays to a table for two.


Now our eyes are fixed on the buds of new apple blossoms––

these two trees, in their eighth decade,

prepare to host the pollinators again

while we emerge— warily— from dormancy.



–– Lynne Viti




The Red Letter3.0


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To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


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and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


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