Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry

Sushil Sivaram

Apple Farming

. . . it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but,
on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness


Our hands break dark mud, chuck small stones away as though we are sorting earth itself into categories: A, B, C, D—stones never made anything grow. The 300 apple saplings like fingers. 3 by 3 ditches, farmhands wait to cool their palms in moist mud—I plant myself, my wife, my dogs—bury arms, legs, paws and tails; the flakes of dead skin from our bodies feed apple trees—eat apple tree, eat apple tree, eat. The mathematics of farming is an analysis in approximation—7 feet in between each M9, one crabapple surrounded by nine dwarfs
in case the bees don't come.

In case the bees don't come,
the nine dwarfs surround one crabapple. Science often fails in this harem. M9 is a rootstalk: empirically this part of the tree grows only five feet. M9 doesn't know apples, it only knows size, it only knows time— two to three years. One fourth is genetics—classless, the other, fruit: Red Delicious, Royal, Richard or the destitute Golden and Granny Smiths. Names, names, names, names, names. I only estimate weight, market price and profit margins. Apple trees don't know who they are,
the graft thinks it knows.

The graft thinks it knows
who they are, and bends like an elbow at approximately five degrees—bandaged joints. The science is easy, grafting—difficult. It is violence, subjugation, perversion, oppression, cuts, possibly pain—there is also profit, and simply put, it is apple juice in the end. Leonard B. Hertz, a former horticulturist with the University of Minnesota explains grafting in detail in an online article titled “Grafting and Budding Fruit Trees.” The farmhands don't know where Minnesota is—I quote Hertz: “The seed from a Haralson apple will produce an apple tree, but it will not produce a Haralson apple tree. Likewise, the seed from a Honeygold apple will not produce a Honeygold apple tree. In other words, fruit trees cannot be reproduced 'true' to the original cultivar from seed.” All this information is apparently redundant for a farmer and his farmhand who have often never been to university or even high school in India. But a farmer knows this. He know that the Red Delicious at breakfast, or in a lunch box, or in an apple strudel is never really a Red Delicious. It cannot be, it is always something else. It only imitates a Red Delicious. But he never tells, he doesn't care. The farmhand knows how to cut, slice and cleft, attach one tree to another and tape it up—he cares only for
the procedures of production.

The procedures of production
I do not care for. I'm not a real farmer, I only switched my class like that Stokes from Philadelphia who was only a graft behind the bandaged joint. His father wanted him to become an engineer—the Indian sun fried his brains—he saw Christ “toilworn and travel-stained, trudging on foot along an Indian high-road.” He gave up the clothes his mother bought—eventually gave up Christ—gave up his name: Sam became Satyanand—fought against the English like an American time traveler—broke dark mud, chucked stones and planted delicious saplings. The Indiana University Press republished his biography in 2008. Penguin Books India in 1999. But in each apple tree
I see skin.

I see skin
in each apple tree, jagged like a tomato knife, the reflection of ___________ apples don't shine on branches, only in supermarkets. I see arms beaten into the shaft of bark—I see dogs hanging upside down from scraggy deadwood—I see legs suffocate underground—I see stones around me like a wall—stones never make anything grow. Inside my masonry I recite the farmhand's song and believe apple farming will make me a farmer.