The Poet's Perspective: 'The Lover of Fruit Trees' portrays a friend

September 20, 2010

Robin Becker, the 2010-11 Penn State laureate and professor of English and women's studies at the University, is sharing several of her poems via video during the 2010-11 academic year, aiming to engage people "in the deep pleasures of poetry -- language crafted and shaped from words, the 'ordinary' material we all use every day," to explore how and why poems move us.

"The Poet's Perspective" is a weekly poetry video series scheduled to appear during the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters on Penn State Live and in Penn State Newswires. Prior to each poem, Becker offers her thoughts about what inspired her to write the piece, then poses a question to consider. Below and in the video link of "The Lover of Fruit Trees," Becker depicts a person she admires.

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This poem presents a portrait of someone I admired for many qualities: his political courage, his intellectual breadth, his love of gardening, his great good humor. He introduced me to New Mexico and thereafter we shared a love of the high desert. I tried to have the poem reflect the wonderful kind of mental “leaps” he made possible in conversation.

Question to consider: With whom do you have rich and searching conversations? How might you describe those conversations or find images that evoke them?


The Lover of Fruit Trees

The desert of northern New Mexico
stretches behind the garden,
punishing cactus in a hot blue bed.
Civilization begins with the Russian olive
and the Chinese elm.

This year all the trees are full.
Early apricots cluster, and greengage
plums dapple the adobe wall.
We walk what you call your English garden
for its wild and unlikely flowers.

You call them by their Latin names
like the strict uncle who wants to be firm
but loves his brother's children for their flaws.
One blazes bright in the morning and wilts by noon;
another flowers before its time.

We turn to the orchard, your prize,
and I think of the stubborn Jews
who, throughout my childhood, made oranges
grow in the desert. A miracle, my father would say.
You understand? A miracle.

Twilight. You reach for your hose
and water disappears into the sandy soil.
Inside, you show me an oversized book
of photographs taken in the Warsaw ghetto
before everything beautiful burned.


"The Lover of Fruit Trees" is from Giacometti's Dog, by Robin Becker, © 1990. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.

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Robin Becker will visit several Penn State Commonwealth Campuses this fall; view her schedule of appearances at online. To read or watch videos of previous poems in the series, click here. To listen to an occasional podcast series where Becker and a small group of students and faculty discuss one of her poems, visit "Liberal Arts Voices."

  • In 'The Lover of Fruit Trees' Becker honors someone she admires. Click on the image above to watch her read the poem.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010