Heart Rot

by Amanda Reck

My mother used to study trees.
She'd check their leaves, their bark, the patterns
of the moss that spotted their trunks. "Don't you love
how much you can tell?" she'd ask. "Look at these
rings." They wrapped around each other in threes.

She took me to an orchard, to archive bark
that split into dry teeth, bowed and thick,
with branches full of rich, red Rome, Winesap, McIntosh.
"Take a bite," she said, and handed me a piece
of a freshly plucked fruit. I shook my head, sure
I'd choke — no slice of red would pass my lips.
Ringing all the trees lay apples left to wither,
their skin mottled red and brown, bruised soft.

And while she worked, I started moving them away,
worried their fester would spread and eat the trees
from inside, squished, wet, putrescent.
That night, I checked my skin for signs of rot.

I began to steal her books — study, between each page,
pressed red skins. Fervent, fever-thin, I replaced
even those books with worn-out stories
I thought would teach me all the rules.
And when her own skin turned hot and red,
I'd nod while her doctors said things
like irregular, chemo, and lymph,
but think mottled, bruised, soft.

I read her every single page
I could find on trees — "they leave
those marks on trees for hikers
to find their way, they're poison
to the bark, you know?" —
but too soon, the pages smelled
like apples, decomposing in the sun,
an insidious decay that waits
inside those things we take.

Once the leaves have changed, I walk
the orchards, press that book against my chest
and watch the apples fall and lay, drops of blood,
and soak the dirt, like bait.

Amanda Reck is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she studied poetry, Russian, and history of art. Now living in NY, NY, and expanding her work list to include associate editor, sales rep, PR rep, and project director for a non-profit, she's also tired of people saying, "Poetry? I didn't realize people still did that." You can find her work in Falling Star Magazine, Locust, and Measure Press. When asked of what poem the word "cherry" immediately made her think, she replied, "one of Neruda'spoems in '20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair.'"

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