Beauty Unframed author Lisa Elmers writes about life, loveliness, and seeing something where you thought there was nothing.

three trees

three trees

at the world’s center, some say

roots a tree, rife – ripe – with fruit:

with apples imagined or apples remembered

apples prohibited or lawful

delectable, strange & alone –



some say there grows a garden,

stone circled, womb-close

where ancient trees crisp their leaves

about apples of silver or gold


in that garden, what creature waits

– at the root – to sneak her elfin bite?

or what dragon burns beneath

his crust of topaz scales

taloning, indolent, the sun-brightened bark?


here to eat is action incorporeal,

motion not of teeth or jaw, but of thought –

your mind plucks & cuts the fragrant fruit,

finds it fresh-fleshed, most milkwhite –

where bronzy seeds tuft the cheek

of juice yet undissolved


& here to eat is action moral –

as the fruit digests you, now to immortal

or now to all-too mortal,

whole forever or forever cracked

by taste incomparable, taken licit-or-illicitly

in the cool of the evening.


but there is talk – wild still

of the historical forest, mother of malus domistica,

that grows where the tien shan cordons china:


there the bitten bows once sagged

with pendant fruits – green, & blue, & red

wagging their shapes as shadows

on rock & grassy ground

some fruits big, ballooning, gorged with juice

& others knit of knots, purple-fisted,

to pump the branches, to pump until

– as the forward-spinning wheel freaks the eye

& seems to spin back –

the apples look to give, not to take



if you were, some day

to wander into these woods

– where the wild apples grow –

a hungry or a thirsty man

surely in that day

surely you would eat & live


but these apples savor spit-bitter, near inedible

no fruit incorporeal, no fruit moral

but fruit of dust, as we are dust

fruit whose vegetable chambers and tough peel

taste of herb & birth & dirt

& tiniest tang – of – sweet


to eat of these apples will make you no hero

or ghoul or daemon

to eat of these apples will make you

merely man, now full of fiber

for the apple has become, purely physical

a part of you, & of your blood & of your flesh

a material motion within you, a rush of molecules –


two trees root at the center of the world

myth & science, origin & end

twining apart, aloof, alone.


but to me, the center is elsewhere


the center of my private world, too

is an old tree, an old apple tree –

standing up from the stone pool,

a congress of leaves, haunt of the jay


the voices of children still are caught

in that mess of branches

among the resonant apples

& the image pops again – on my mind’s eye

denying – defying – loss


this old apple tree, they say, came true from a seed

planted in incommodious colorado dirt,

its ungrafted branches, like stony shoulders

held the forms of children aloft, gentle, gigantic

held them there to take childish tastes

of the rough-skinned apples,

pocked with worm-holes, cork-patched

carefully navigated by the crooked bite


half its apples were eaten, & half are remembered

living still though they died long ago

& melted to the stone pool & became

next summer’s grass


to eat these apples was very heaven

taken again & again, till the stomach turns

& senses swoon to sweet-sourness

rosemary-rich, tongue-fuzzing flesh


full of apples we lay down on the lawn

head-to-grass like fallen fruit

believing the season shall never change

immortalized by mortal eating –