Poem: The Woman You Love Cuts Apples for You

I first read this poem years ago, having never imagined that a person might dip apples into sea salt and vinegar. And years later, I swear, a woman would teach me how tajin turns a green apple into something spectacular. We were standing outside an Arizona prison, and I didn’t believe there was anything to be discovered in a prison parking lot. Reading Rosal’s poem again made me pull out some tajin, and slice some apples, and remember how poems create a heart’s history and remind us of home. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

The Woman You Love Cuts Apples for You

By Patrick Rosal

and stirs them in sea salt and vinegar
She takes a drag from her Silk Cut

eases again through the fruit’s flesh
the blade stopping short of her thumb

You are both sweating at the shoulder
(East Ham’s hottest summer) And because

there is this woman slicing apples
stirring them in vinegar reminding you

of an afternoon twenty-five years ago when
you knelt with your brothers at your mother’s

feet to pluck apple slices from a small basin
pinched between her legs And one of you

would lift that bowl — almost completely empty
except for a sour clouded liquid

and a few seeds shifting at the bottom
You’d just taste at first but soon you’re handing it

from brother to brother gulping lung-fulls
of that tart cider ’til your lips turned white

and numb You won’t dare tell anyone you’ve learned
to love the taste of something so strange until this

woman cuts apples for you in vinegar
and the familiar fumes fill your nostrils and gullet

She will lift the bowl to drink She’ll twist her face
and laugh when she offers it and you will drink

and she will drink and you will drink again
She will kiss your cut knuckle She’ll kiss your eyes

Of course the vinegar stings
It’s the hottest summer ever in London

And you and the woman you love fall asleep side by side
like this — reeking and unwashed — breathing in

each other’s dreams of open skin

Reginald Dwayne Bett is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, ‘‘Felon,’’ explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Patrick Rosal is a writer and a former Guggenheim fellow whose work includes “My American Kundiman” (Persea Books, 2006). He has adapted this poem from a longer version appearing in “The Last Thing” (Persea Books, 2021). He teaches at Rutgers University-Camden.

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