“The first blossom was the best blossom” according to poet Louis MacNiece “for the child who never had seen an orchard.”
In tune with the seasons on May Day, I gather blossoms from the old pioneer apple tree and bundle them into a blue pitcher for the table. This tree has been threatening to die, but this year the blossoms are profuse, a gift from the river of rain that fell in the last storm. I planted a new tree, a Fuji, five years ago, and it too has finally surged into a generous cloud of blossom.
May Day is a coming-of-age and a woman’s feast. I was raised Catholic, a proper pagan. My sisters and I carried armloads of blossoms up to our farmhouse bedrooms, pulling out scarfs and making altars to welcome the May Queen, waiting to find out who we’d become, wondering if we’d marry and have children and orchards of our own. “Oh, Mary we crown thee . . .”
In “Apple Blossoms,” Susan Kelly-DeWitt writes of that coming-of-age anticipation, waiting as
. . . the secret
and docile buds of the apple
blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night
the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find
yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open . . .
The petals are fragile, liminal—the slightest wind can lift them away—but they are intended that way; they are meant to pass like a breath, the slips and silks of a girl. This gives them their breath-taking power. In Robert Haas’s “Apple Trees at Olema,” we are “shaken by the raw, backlit flaring | of the apple blossoms.”
All blossoms are by nature transformative–the apple more so since it feeds us–like the hazel wand in Yeats’s “Song of the Wandering Aengus” which turns into–
. . . a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
and faded through the brightening air.