American Life in Poetry: Column 639

By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

One of my favorite poems is Louise Bogan’s “The Crossed Apple” which mentions two species, Meadow Milk and Sweet Burning, and since reading it many years ago I have made notes of the names of apples, a poet’s delight. In this touching poem by Cathryn Essinger, who lives in Ohio, I’ve come upon yet another for my collection. Her most recent book is What I Know About Innocence from Main Street Rag press.

Summer Apples


I planted an apple tree in memory

of my mother, who is not gone,


but whose memory has become

so transparent that she remembers


slicing apples with her grandmother

(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than


the fruit that I hand her today. Still,

she polishes the surface with her thumb,


holds it to the light and says with no

hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .


they’re so fragile, you can almost see

to the core. She no longer remembers how


to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but

her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.


And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—

to that little cathedral to memory—where


the seeds remember everything they need

to know to become yellow and transparent.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Cathryn Essinger, “Summer Apples,” from Alaska Quarterly Review, (Vol 33, No. 1 & 2, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Cathryn Essinger and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. They do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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