“The Lover of Fruit Trees,” a poem by Robin Becker, 2010-11 Penn State laureate

This poem presents a portrait of someone I
admired for many qualities: his political courage;
his intellectual breadth; his love of gardening, his great good humor. He introduced me to
New Mexico and thereafter we shared a love of the high desert. I tried to have the poem
reflect the wonderful kind of mental leaps he made
possible in conversation. Something to consider: With whom do you have
rich and searching conversations? How might you
describe those conversations or find images that evoke them? The Lover of Fruit Trees The desert of northern New Mexico
stretches behind the garden, punishing cactus in a hot blue bed.
Civilization begins with the Russian olive and the Chinese elm. This year all the trees are full.
Early apricots cluster, and greengage plums dapple the adobe wall.
We walk what you call your English garden for its wild and unlikely flowers. You call them by their Latin names
like the strict uncle who wants to be firm but loves his brother’s children for their
flaws. One blazes bright in the morning and wilts
by noon; another flowers before its time. We turn to the orchard, your prize,
and I think of the stubborn Jews who, throughout my childhood, made oranges
grow in the desert. A miracle, my father would say.
You understand? A miracle. Twilight. You reach for your hose
and water disappears into the sandy soil. Inside, you show me an oversized book
of photographs taken in the Warsaw ghetto before everything beautiful burned.

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