Apples and Poetry: Shin Yu Pai’s HEIRLOOM
Their names, mouthfuls of consonants and vowels, summon colors, the elevated stations of royalty, animals, and distant places: Arctic, Astrakhan, Belmont, Bietigheimer, Dolgo Crabapple, Dutch Mignonne, Dutchess of Oldenberg, Early Harvest, Esopus Spitzenberg, Golden Russett, Gravenstein, Hawkeye, King, Lubsk Queen, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, Roxbury Russett, Swaar, Tolman Sweet, Wealthy, Wolf River, Yellow Belltower, Yellow Newtown, Yellow Transparent. They are the 24 varieties of apples you find at Piper’s Orchard in Carkeek Park at the northwest edge of Seattle, and poet Shin Yu Pai has alphabetized them to make “Index,” one of the sections in her abecedarian poem HEIRLOOM.
HEIRLOOM is the poem itself, which you can hear Pai read aloud on her website or via a QR code against a texture of sounds recorded on-site, but it’s also the installation you find as you walk among the apple, pear, quince, filbert, hickory, and walnut trees at Piper’s Orchard, planted in the late 19th century and restored in the 1980’s from beneath ivy and blackberry. Pai has taken a handful of her section titles and stenciled them onto some of the orchard’s apples. The black vinyl stencils capture the heat of the summer sun and burn the words into the fruit’s flesh, while the skin around it ripens and grows rosy. Hers is a project of naming and passing down, of marrying the hidden stories at Piper’s Orchard with the immediacy of the stretch of an arm and the grasp of a hand.
Join the poet and artist this Saturday, August 29th, from 2 to 3 and again from 3 to 4 pm, to hear more about HEIRLOOM. Her tours will meet at the Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center, where there’s also parking, and head down to the orchard from there. Wear walking shoes; the trail is hilly, and the orchard itself is steeply sloped.
When I was there a few weeks ago, a day after torrential rains, ripe apples tumbled heedless and headlong down the orchard’s pitch, and on the far side of the path below, where the fruit settled, the air smelled of fall and fermentation.