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  4. Had I Been There, Had It Been Me by Benjamin S. Grossberg
Had I Been There, Had It Been Me

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Always the script, the dramatic comma,
the pointed ellipsis, half turn, beat, the exit
itself as punctuation. Let’s say the back wall
of the house fell away: first cracks
down the plaster, then it crumbles
to reveal seventy-five rows of spectators.
That’s the explanation: they’ve been there
all along; I mulled blocking on a blind
impulse, but it turns out a correct one.
Maybe someone is making love to me
(in the 19th century sense): do I throw off
his hand, exit with pithy wit? Or simply
submit to it: the sappy moment
which will, I know, have to be resisted
in some later scene. Had I been there,
had it been me, I would have said—
and the audience would have been moved
to applaud. Astounding improvisation!
I’d have walked right up to the lawyer,
the bank manager, and I’d have said—
or, if it was me, it would never have gotten
that far; I’d have turned to her and said—

So I am contemplating in its shade
an apple tree. Haven’t I often done that?
So why not me? Late August, the leaves
like arrowheads, dark green, waxy,
punctuated by apples—constellations
of apples. There I see The Hunter, bow
pulled back, the apples of his quiver fixed
with perfect aim: William Tell, daughter
across the tree, of apples herself, poised
with a perfect fruit above her head:
wet tension of its surface, red skin
that kisses the sun. And this perfect tree.
This perfect tree in which every stamen
was touched by pollen, in which every
flower thickened to fruit: tree that knows
by its own example perfection. In each
cluster, five apples bunch as tight
as chambers of a human heart. Had I
been there, had it been me—and the slither
up the trunk brought my attention low,
the rippling body sliding along the trunk,
I who have been so good all these years
at resisting, and giving in, and resisting—
I’d have heard the melodious hiss, seen
the glinting tongue, its fork invading
the region of my heart, the archer
in that perfect canopy aiming right at me,
I who have given in to desire
when the stakes were much lower,
could I resist those movements, how fully
the serpent’s hiss gives itself over to simile:
I am like, I am like, I am like. . . .
Seen it before, mister. I’d have sighed
in an aside, glanced up at the sky,
deadpanned the audience, and said—

Or had my lover brought the apple.
For years I have told them not to burn
money on me. But to bring only this,
to hold it out with a silent smile
as they enter the house, down center
on the stage of the palm. No better way
to say I love you. So why not me?
Early October, the outsize hunger
after running, and my lover brings it over.
I recognize on his breath the scent
of the serpent, and the apple, the one
forbidden thing. Deep voice, dark eyes,
silent smile and perfect apple;
only midday draped across his body,
tight, alert, alive to the moment of sin.
And reaching out to take it in my hand.
Who better than me? Let the tension
linger, let the audience pulse
with anticipation. We touch over
the forbidden fruit. The stage lights dim,
and I look at him, and I look at him,
and raise my eyebrows, and say—

But even so, wouldn’t I end up here again,
always here? Angels crossing swords
behind me, shame clothing me, conflating
all my losses—the loss of God, the loss
of apples, how they expand inside
to fill up hunger. Maybe there are
no words here, just the sky
blackening with anger. Maybe words
wouldn’t be useful here anyway.
Consider a scrim: the night sky blotted
of constellations; nothing but gray
swirls of wrath. And project against it
a man’s silhouette: head bent, empty-
handed, the memory of apples imprinted
on his wordless tongue, and around his
neck, loss—like a cowbell—announcing
his presence to the fallen world.

Benjamin S. Grossberg, “Had I Been There, Had It Been Me” from Sweet Core Orchard. Copyright © 2009 by Benjamin S. Grossberg. Reprinted by permission of University of Tampa Press.
Source: Sweet Core Orchard (University of Tampa Press, 2009)
Had I Been There, Had It Been Me

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