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Poem: "Winter Apples" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Winter Apples"

This poem came out of the September 13, 2011 perk round.  It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles, jenny_evergreen, aldersprig, and laffingkat.  It was posted in part by minor_architect as the linkbacks poem for the November 1, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  Since there are verses left over, you can reveal a verse today by linking to a favorite poem from this fishbowl.  These people have boosted the signal: wyld_dandelyon, marina_bonomi, janetmiles, the_vulture, aldersprig, rix_scaedu, meeksp, and minor_architect.

Special thanks to marina_bonomi for helping me research the traditional apples of Italy.  Some sites we visited featured apple cultivars, old Italian applesBinotto apples (with picture), Decio apples, and ox muzzle apples.  I love antique apples and I'm happy to share these with you.  Later in the poem, there's a round of herbalism for which I researched herb magic, belladonna, and henbane.  This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman, and you can find other poems in this series via the Serial Poetry page.

Winter Apples

Fiorenza's cottage stood quiet
as she laid a hand on the closed door.
She loved the place where she had grown up
with her grandmother, and she never wanted to leave it,
though sometimes it got a little lonely
with only mad Ercole for company.
It offered plenty of room to work, and
people in need of an herbalist could come here
without bothering a whole houseful of folk.

Today, though, Fiorenza's work lay elsewhere.
Her aunt Zola kept the biggest orchard
at the edge of the village, and when each variety
got ready to pick, everyone was invited over
to help in exchange for a share of the fruit --
just as they came to help Fiorenza
with the ox muzzle apples in her own orchard.
Fiorenza hummed to herself as she walked
through the village to the huge rambling house
full of aunts and uncles and cousins.

When Fiorenza arrived, she found
the kitchen overflowing with baskets
of small green Decio apples waiting to be put up for winter.
By spring, they would turn creamy and red,
ready to eat, long after the other varieties had run out.

Zola presided over the long marble counter.
Her middle sister Graziella supervised the older girls
as they discarded apples with nicks or bruises,
and her youngest sister Carine supervised the little girls
as they sorted the apples by size.
Now and then, the men and older boys would come in
lugging bushel baskets full of more fruit,
while the little boys carried buckets of discarded apples
outside to feed the livestock.

Fiorenza joined Zola at the counter,
making one last meticulous check for perfection
before packing the apples carefully into clean straw
layered into the tall wooden barrels.
Zola valued Fiorenza's sharp eye for flaws,
and said so, often, to anyone who would listen.
One bad apple can spoil a whole barrel, you know.

They all gossiped as they worked.
Fiorenza could not imagine
living amidst such cacophony every day,
but as an occasional divergence from her quiet life,
she loved it dearly.

Zola's husband Alberto had decided
to retire the old bull and raise one of the male calves.
Desideria was with child, unmarried,
and had blamed Pasquale down the lane.
The merchant Otoniel
was pressing his daughters to wed,
though they did not care to do so.

Then Zola lowered her voice and said,
"Do you know, Fiorenza,
the strangest thing happened yesterday.
An old woman stopped by here
wanting to buy one perfect red apple."

Zola grew the best apples,
and people knew that, the way they knew Fiorenza
as the best gardener and baker and herbalist.
The Binotto apples were in season,
deep rose-red with the flavor and scent of roses.
Anyone might ask after them.

Fiorenza carefully kept her eyes on her work.
"An old woman, you say?" she murmured.
"Did you not recognize her, then?"

"I never saw her before in my life,"
said Zola, "and I don't care to see her again.
Something about her just seemed odd to me."

It might be nothing, of course.
People did travel, on occasion,
though generally not old people.
She might have only wanted a snack for the road,
but then again, one perfect  red apple ...
winter storage wasn't the sole reason
for requiring perfection.

"What seemed odd about her?"
Fiorenza asked.
"I'm not sure she was as old as she looked,"
said Zola.  "She didn't sound quite right for it."

Then Graziella chimed in with a story
about her husband's mother Vanna
who was certainly  quite old
and had lost her glass eye yet again,
this time in the boys' jar of marbles.

When Fiorenza went home that evening,
her cousin Timoteo went with her
to put the heavy barrel of apples
into a safe place for the winter.
She fingered the smooth rim of the barrel
and wondered about Aunt Zola's visitor.

The next day, as Fiorenza worked in her garden
pulling up the yellowed vegetable plants,
she heard an unfamiliar voice calling out,
"Girl in the garden! Come and help an old woman."

Fiorenza straightened up and looked.
A woman stood at her gate, sure enough,
but her grey hair looked dusty and smelled of chalk
and her voice still sounded as smooth as Zola's.
"What is it that you need, grandmother?"
the herbalist asked.

"Oh, just a bit of henbane root
and some belladonna leaves,"
the woman said, swinging an empty basket.
"I'm in need of killing vermin, you see."

"I see," Fiorenza said evenly.
She narrowed her eyes
and made the little mental pivot
that sometimes let her see through illusions.
The woman's wrinkles flowed away,
replaced by a dark beauty in full bloom.

So Fiorenza harvested leaves and roots
that looked like belladonna and henbane
but were much less noxious -- a substitution
unlikely to be noticed by anyone who would
buy herbs instead of growing her own.
Hidden in the bundle was a sprig of rue, for spellbreaking,
so that all Fiorenza needed to do herself
was pick loose the tiniest thread of the illusion
and trust that the rest would unravel all the way home
like a sweater that had gotten snagged on a nail.

Doubtless the not-so-old woman would be surprised
to find that her magic poison apple wouldn't kill so much as a flea
and that whatever mischief she planned would reveal her own face.

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63 comments or Leave a comment
From: minor_architect Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool! As people promote their favorite poems and reveal more verses, I'll reveal the same ones over on my journal. Then both posts will be in symmetry. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)


That works for me. Thanks for volunteering for this.

The extra verse on mine is for marina_bonomi boosting "The Steamsmith."
From: rhodielady_47 Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
You love old antique apples too?!!
I bought an Ashmead's Kernal tree last year--so far so good as long as the deer and rabbit repellant supply stays constant.
Thanks for the websites--I'll be checking them out sometime later this week--I'm a busy little beaver right now.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)


>>You love old antique apples too?!!<<

Along with other heritage varieties of fruits and vegetables. Both the genetic engineer and the gardener in me agree that diversity is desirable.

Here at Fieldhaven we have assorted crabapples, a Criterion apple, and a birdgift tree that's actually two stuck together: a golden crabapple and a regular apple whose fruit is smallish and yellow and quite sweet. I'd rather like to get my hands on a nice russet, which tend to perform well without chemical pest control.

Sometimes I get access to heritage apples at local orchards, farmer's markets, our food co-op, etc.
paka From: paka Date: November 3rd, 2011 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I really like the Fiorenza poems best out of all the ones you post; they're the most unique, genre wise, but their low key approach to magic reminds me a little of Earthsea.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

It's helpful to know what people enjoy the most.

Yes, this series is primarily low magic, with occasional sparks of something stronger or more sophisticated. Much of the really powerful stuff is outside of direct human control -- for instance, the angels or the fata -- and the bits of that which do come into human hands tend to have mysterious roots, like the spellbook and locket from Bettina's mother. Fiorenza deals in practicalities, the slow gentle magics of the earth. Even when a problem is magical in nature, she doesn't always use a magical solution. She's one of those people with a knack for applying the least possible influence to achieve a desired result. *chuckle* Except of course when she gets fed up and whacks someone over the head with a clue-by-four.

I think, in some stories, people get distracted by the gee-whiz magic and forget that how you use it is more important than what you have. Gandalf had magic out the wazoo and very rarely used it. He accomplished more with knowledge and planning than with staff or sword. Fiorenza is like that. She takes the sensible solution that most heroes would just never think of. If she had a super magical staff, it would probably be in the closet with the brooms and umbrellas.
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: November 3rd, 2011 02:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I like the Fiorenza poems too.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: November 3rd, 2011 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I signal boosted again. http://rix-scaedu.livejournal.com/33125.html
I hope this counts! :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)


It counts! Your new verse is up. Thank you for your support.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: November 3rd, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Poetry signal boosted in my LJ and on FetLife.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Two new verses have been posted.
From: minor_architect Date: November 6th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've linked to the list of unsold poems and "Third Road Signs" from my account on Twitter (@miladylibrary). Can we have the rest of the poem now, please? :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 6th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)


Thank you for your continued support.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: November 6th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee! I enjoyed this one. :)
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: November 6th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
>>The Binotto apples were in season,
deep rose-red with the flavor and scent of roses.<<

Between this line and the Snow White references, I was reminded of the story of "Snow White and Rose Red". However, as no ingrate dwarfs were involved in the poem, it's just a random association.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 6th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)


It is a Snow White reference! It's just being told from backstage, as the wicked Queen had to get her poison apple from somewhere and has come shopping in Fiorenza's village. Snow White and company are simply offstage from this perspective.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: November 6th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well done, Signora Fiorenza!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 7th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)


rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: November 6th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
This could become very embarassing...
eseme From: eseme Date: November 11th, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do enjoy the Fiorenza series. She always does come up with the most insightful solutions. I did like reading about all the varieties of apples.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 12th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I do enjoy the Fiorenza series. She always does come up with the most insightful solutions.<<

I'm happy to hear that. I enjoy writing about characters who use different problem-solving methods than the usual. Not all heroes have to rush in and save the day at swordpoint.

>> I did like reading about all the varieties of apples.<<

Yay! It's fun to explore historic Italy and find cool things to share. I'm glad that other people enjoy the results.
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