Matthew Roth

The Peach Tree


Because my daughter came home in tears 
from the birthday party and could not be 
consoled, I have taken her out to harvest 
what’s left of the garden, whose splendor 

has begun to run to rot and squalor                                  
in the haze of August heat. Still 
the beanpoles stand bound and heavy 
with knotted vines, and here and there                  

a ripe tomato hangs ready for her hand 
to close around it, twist, and pull it free.
Why can’t I bear to ask her 
what it was some other innocent

did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say? 
Instead, I try to keep her close and hope 
our work together will be enough to make 
the sting subside. But when I turn to look

for her she’s gone, running from me 
towards the young peach, halfway up 
the slope, where we planted it three years ago. 
All summer we’ve watched amazed 

the swelling fruit beneath whose weight 
the slender branches bend, drooping at their ends. 
Though they’ve turned to butter and crimson, 
the peaches aren’t yet ripe, and I tell her 

not to pick them but she pays no mind, 
then yelps and comes to show me how 
one side of the peach she holds in her hand 
crawls with bugs who have eaten away 

half the flesh, revealing the stone at its middle. 
If we’re going to save them, we’ll have to 
harvest now, before they are ready, 
let them ripen the rest of the way inside. 

We’ll have to lay them out on the table 
by the window where, when she’s finally off 
to bed, I’ll stand in the settling dark, 
watching the evening rake its black loam 

over the lawn and the garden going 
to seed and then the solitary tree, 
its free, unburdened branches bowed 
as if still beneath that weight.

Matthew Roth is the author of Bird Silence (Woodley Press). His poems have appeared in 32 Poems, Verse, Fence, American Literary Review, and many other journals. He teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Messiah College, in Grantham, PA.

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