1081: The Leaving by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

20240325 Slowdown

1081: The Leaving by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Victoria Chang.


I’m Victoria Chang and this is The Slowdown.

When we were little, we would go apple picking in Michigan. This was in an age where the red delicious apple seemed to be the only apple around. One year, the apples in the fields were particularly delicious. Their insides had a lighter, translucent color and the apples had a perfect sweetness.

My immigrant parents, always frugal, would bring several knives, a water bottle sprayer, and paper towels, ready to wash and cut the apples, in order to eat them while picking them. My favorite part was climbing the ladders, going up and down trying to find the most perfectly beautiful apple glistening in the sun, or hiding in a shadow, just slightly out of reach. I loved how all my energy, seemingly my entire purpose in life on those days, was to find the best apples, one by one, in order to make my father proud of me.

Then after a long exhausting day, we would reward ourselves with donuts at the cider mill. What I miss most is the warm donut, brown and crispy from just coming out of the fryer, the way the insides were soft and steaming. The donuts came in brown paper bags and I ate them right out of the bags that were a darker shade, from all the grease. Then we’d top off the sweetness with swigs of apple cider. When we got home, we’d have boxes and boxes of apples that we would store in the basement. I still hear my mother’s voice yelling at us to eat the apples!

Today’s poem is by beloved poet, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. This is a poem that seems so easy to describe, yet it’s so hard to pin down–my favorite kind of poem–both clear and mysterious. It’s dreamlike, mystical, biblical, and so much more. It magically depicts what it’s like to be a child on the cusp of something, in the face of the largeness of the world.

The Leaving
by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond's cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper's stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was—I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water—full of fish and eyes.

“The Leaving” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly from TO THE PLACE OF TRUMPETS © 1988 Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Used by permission of Yale University Press.