Making apple butter with Emily Shepard

Emily, who died stirring apple butter in Cherry Hill, Pennsylvania, 1887

 Cutting apples, breathing cider steam, 
stirring brown sugar, cinnamon,
dreaming my great grandmother dreams when I dream,
the recipe simmers down. And grabbing this family remnant,
persistent leaves whirl and fade
with her green dress. It is cold. I confuse reds with yellows
and stand for hours stirring
Golden Russets, Wolf Rivers, and Cox Orange Pippins.

With kindling, the fire jumps. Large pieces of split cherry
rush into flames. The cast iron pot
rocks on its hanger. I cannot stop this.
Emily dreams a dream I almost remember.
Her green dress catches fire. She runs.
And neglected, the apples darken
and then darken again.
And as she runs, I tackle her on a dry dirt road.
The calm lake, twice as far, lingers
with Salomes, Esopus Spitzenbergs, and Maiden’s Blushes.

Just this morning, the sharp frost settled into my lungs.
The cold silvery ash gently thrust yellow crayons
into one of my childish hands, warm reds into the other.
I clearly heard my mother say, “my grandmother, just twenty-six,
was tackled too far down the road.”
This cloudless memory continues stirring October winds
into a mixture of Winesaps, Sops of Wine, and Baldwin Woodpeckers.

This recipe helps. I gently pull the charred remnants
of Emily’s green dress from her skin
and force my sense of time to pace uneasily
back and forth.
Today, new orchards wait. I lean against a forked Beech stake
that props an over extended limb.
To ease pain, Emily is carefully wrapped in sheets soaked with turpentine.
Next to me, John, my young great-grandfather,
paces back and forth as uneasily as my imagination.
Emily drifts quietly away, surrounds my house with saplings:
Roxbury Russets, Chenango Strawberries, and Westfield Seek-No-Furthers.