Sunday, November 30, 2008

SCUPPERNONGS by Kathryn Stripling Byer

They ripened to myth on her tongue, sweetness
always beyond reach, out there at the edge
of abandoned farms, back in the thickets
where no decent woman dared go.  Not that she
scorned mayhaws her black neighbors left
at her door.  Toiling hours in tropical swelter,
she boiled them down into a red syrup

salvaged in jelly jars.  How much of her sweat
she stirred into that crimson stock I still
contemplate when it comes time to make jelly
again and I find myself roaming the fruit stalls
till  I smell them, lifting both hands full,
as she would have done, to my nose,
understanding why she bent to every plum,

melon, and peach, every strip of fresh sugar cane.
Thus have these scuppernongs ripened
for too long inside my refrigerator.
Past time to ward off the coming rot,
time to remember how she'd set to work
with no recourse to Sure-Gel, just lemon and
sugar.  A spoon.  Cheesecloth.  Most of a morning

or afternoon, watching the syrup drip slowly
then more slowly still down the spoon's sticky
edge.  Leaving everything it touched, as always,
a mess, and for what?  On my windowsill,
seven jars through which the light of this late
summer afternoon takes its time, quickening
each pot of pale amber juices to sweet everlasting.



Previously Published in Iron Mountain Review.
From COMING TO REST, Louisiana State University Press

"Hallows" tried to slip away before its time, faded like a ghost
and went into the archive. But all is not lost.  Click below labels 
on Older Post to read "Hallows."
 

2 comments:

Lynn ... said...

If there were a prize for the perfect poem, I think "Scuppernongs" would get it. You don't want it to end! I don't know about anyone else, but I could smell this one. :)

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

This is one of my favorite poems. It reminds me of my mother who makes jelly. I enjoy Kay's beautiful mountain poetry.

Brenda Kay Ledford