Once upon a time there was a seventy-seven-year-old woman who decided to join a poetry class. She had lost her fear of actually taking this step, which she’d had for a number of years, but still carried a deep fear of not being able to do it. They would all be better educated, brighter and know more poetry than she did and she would make a fool of herself but hey, she finally decided, I’ve made a fool of myself before and the world hasn’t ended. So she signed up.
The class started around the time when, if she’d been still living with a garden, she’d be making crab apple jelly. She’d loved the magic of making crab apple jelly, loved what happened when the little crimson, purple shooters met water and then sugar. Magic.
She began losing things immediately. Fear of the tutor was the first one to go. There was absolutely nothing frightening about her at all. She was small and had a quiet voice and she knew everything that the woman didn’t know but she slid that knowledge into the class as easy as that girl who, every spring, used to slide into the river near her home to check for changes to the course, the ebbs and flurries that weren’t there before, the signals that said there was a snag of some kind and she’d better tell the little kids to be careful. Unhurried. Careful. Calm. Otherwise you missed things.
The next thing to go was the worry that all the students would be better and brighter than she was. They were, of course, but what she found was that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because everyone started off the same and everyone read their poem out loud whether they wanted to or not. They were all better at writing poems but it turned out they all struggled with the same things the woman did. What to say. How to say it. And the big one: What do I mean?
Having to have a poem every Thursday was like making crab apple jelly without the crab apples. At first the idea of it was too absurd to even think about as a real thing. What do you make crab apple jelly with if not with crab apples? She decided that if you made scones and buttered them and told everyone that the red stuff on them was crab apple jelly and it looked like crab apple jelly and tasted like crab apple jelly, they would accept it as crab apple jelly even though it was only sugar, water and crab apple flavouring. So, decided the woman, I’ll present false crab apple poems and it’ll be okay because at some stage the real crab apple jelly will appear. Not that her poems became real ones overnight, not at all, but at least she could read them out to the class.
She found that everyone in the class felt they were writing fake crab apple jelly poems too. She found out that everyone thinks they’ve written a fake crab apple poem first up which is true because most people do. The trick is to find some real crab apples and make some real crab apple jelly and of course that’s a dead giveaway because once you’ve made a real poem, you know the difference between real fruit off the tree and drops of flavouring from a bottle.
Never mind, she thought, we all have to lose some things and find some things before we do anything, and during that year this is what kept her going until all of a sudden she had a small collection of some real and some fake crab apple poems. She had lost a few things she needed to lose and found a few things she needed to find. One of the most important things she lost was the fear that she would run out of ideas and what was worse, words, and one of the most important things she found was she had more ideas than she knew what to do with simply because ideas created other ideas, better ones. She found that words were always going to be there but the right one was always going to be at the top of the tree, the one you had to stretch for.
She loved that even when her poem which the day before she’d thought was a real one turned out not to be, she didn’t care. Not so much anyway. And she found that when she did strike exactly the right word for exactly the right line she wanted to dance along Lambton Quay and up and up in the lift, still dancing until she reached the room where everyone else was dancing for the same reason.
And all of a sudden there it was. A real crab apple tree outside the window. One with red leaves and even darker red blossoms. Blossoms which said we’ll bear real fruit one of these days because that’s what happens in the year when you lose some things you don’t need and find some other things you do.