An Astonishing Poem of Instructions for Eating Persimmons and of Course, Way More

A few months ago, intrigued by a passing mention of Yi-Young Lee’s poem Persimmons in the New Yorker, I found myself reading the long poem on a subway train barreling downtown underground. It read like a short story (by short story standards it is modest in length). By the end found I myself almost in tears, knocked out by its beauty.

It tells a number of tiny stories, and lovely very precise instruction about chosing and eating persimmons, which are in season now. I have never heard anyone describe a ripe persimmon so perfectly before, either its brown spots, or heaviness, or the effect of its astonishing flesh.

So I recommend buying a persimmon or two (Hachiya persimmons, not Fuyu) and letting them ripen, and reading the mirculous poem as if it were a story, out loud if possible.  (It turns out to be not not long at all.)

What could be better: stories, poetry, something exquisite to eat..?

Sally Schneider

 

Persimmons

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose
persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.
Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked:   I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo:   you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.
Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and frightwren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.
Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.
My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.
Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.
Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.
This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.
Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.
He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?
This is persimmons, Father.
Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight. 

Sally Schneider

4 Responses to An Astonishing Poem of Instructions for Eating Persimmons and of Course, Way More

  1. Bo DeMarco 11.30.2018 at 7:44am #

    I will buy a persimmon today and reflect on this exquisite poem.

  2. Anthony Giglio 12.02.2018 at 2:45pm #

    This poem, in a word, is Transportational.

    I am a child shopping for citrus with my grandmother: weighing deep orange Seville oranges in our hands to choose the heaviest, squeezing them for the least resistance.

    I am a young man shopping for eggplant with his mother-in-law: weighing violet-streaked Sicilian lobes in our hands to choose the lightest, squeezing them to see which ones plump up again in resistance.

    I am a father shopping for tomatoes with my son: gently weighing and discerning each for weight and ripeness; those for later in the week; these for the next day or two; and these to pop in our mouths right now!

  3. Sally Schneider 12.02.2018 at 8:21pm #

    “Transportational” is, really, the perfect word to describe “Persimmons”, though no doubt in different ways for each of us.

    The way you experienced is a powerful poem unto itself, Anthony. Thank you.

  4. Sally Schneider 12.02.2018 at 8:22pm #

    Made me smile.

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