Apple hanging from a tree branch in front of a blue sky.

My mother stands in the common area of Applegate
Nursing Home reciting Eugene Field
to a cohort of closed-head injury residents.
She coaches Anna Babich, who twenty years ago
was tossed from the back of her boyfriend’s
Harley when a truck sideswiped them
on Telegraph Road one summer night.
Anna blurts out a couple words
before her tongue contorts into a tangle
of fricatives and spit. “The gingham dog,”
she says. And the calico cat, my mother prompts
her to continue. “Side by side” on the table sat.
And so my mother spends her lunch hour
while my father and I sit and listen
and the Kentucky Fried Chicken
we brought gets cold. But there is news
to be gathered from the Dutch clock
and the Chinese plate, from the bovine eyes
of Anna Babich, Joe Palmatier, and Ellen Wright
as they learn a stray line or two of bad verse
from a pale woman in a squat brick building
that might once have been the site of an orchard
gate opening onto rows of apple trees.
In retrogenesis we end up as children
swinging on that gate and plucking apples
from the ancient hybrid trees grafted
into something we can wrap our limbs around,
losing all but the most distant memories.
We can’t agree on what is meant by “mind,”
but perhaps it is a ragged book
of schoolroom verse, a small carton
of fast food, grease congealing, a stone tower
near the railyards of Woodhaven, Michigan
flashing red and white lights while scrambling
freight along the twisting tracks.


Photo used and adapted under CC.