“Apple Orchard,” oil on canvas, by George Inness, 1892.

by Annette Sisson

Autumn crisps the tapering light,
oak pulls on its auburn duster.
We drive beside the river to the steep
orchard where apple trees climb
the furrowed ridge. In fall we recall
how the tang of applesauce, as native
and ardent as old marriage, staves off
winter’s crisis of ice. En route
we wonder: Will the bent woman
still be there? Or will she have joined
the earth somewhere between hollow and hill?

You find the crack in the dell, nose
our car down the dirt drive.
Through the shack’s murky window
we see her dark form move.
She opens the unsprung door,
offers her creaky smile; we hunch
inside, hair dusting the low
lintel, breathe in apples,
ask for Mullins—Rusty Coats,
she mumbles, loads them into bushel
baskets; we hand her folded cash,
lug the haul to the trunk, nod,
a shadow waving, pull away.

Down the road the Caney Fork.
We glimpse fishermen, their waders and gear.
You cut the engine. I choose to wait
on the bank, you follow the cascades,
navigate the jagged rocks half-way
across, and beyond, noting the river’s
level, the anglers’ netted catch.
I watch a heron stalk, dive,
swallow a small bream. The bird
ruptures the air as it rises, marks
time in high breeze, finds
the tree line’s gap, disappears
over the bluff. I blink, scan
for your silhouette, framed in a plot of sun
against cliffs where river widens, sky
opens. You are a shade dancing
in light, a paper figure flitting
on wire. I picture the wire thickening
to rope, me pulling your body,
hand over hand, back to shore.

The retreating beats of the bird’s
wings echo. I think of the apple
woman, dilapidated shed, pungent
harvest—the honeyed zest of my mother’s
apple tart, her ashes strewn
under a broad maple last January.
I want to hear you breathe,
slide my fingers through your arms,
lock them between the shoulder blades.
Distance and time, a heron’s flight—
its absence, perhaps its return. I want
to glide across that stretch of miles
back to the grizzled woman sorting
fruit, to catch her rusty voice,
see her wave us off, the sleeves
of her blowsy jacket fanning the wind.
Distance, time, what we bear,
a winter sharp with apples.

omega man

Annette Sisson has poems published or forthcoming in Nashville Review, Typishly, The West Review, HeartWood Literary Magazine, Sky Island Journal, and many others. Her first full-length book, Small Fish in High Branches, is forthcoming from Glass Lyre Press. Her chapbook, A Casting Off, was published by Finishing Line in 2019. She was named a 2021 Mark Strand Poetry Scholar for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a 2020 BOAAT Writing Fellow, and winner of The Porch Writers’ Collective’s 2019 Poetry Prize. Visit her website at annettesisson.com.