Holy City of Byzantium

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by W.S. Merwin (b. 1927)

She informed me that she had a tree of mirabelles
told me it was the only one anywhere around
she did not want everyone to realize she had it
it might go for years and bear nothing at all
flowering with the other plums but then nothing
and another year it would be covered with mirabelles
you know they are not so big as all the others
but they are more delicate for those acquainted with them
she promised me mirabelles if it was the year for them
she lived in a house so small she must have been able
to reach anything from where she was and her garden
was scarcely larger she grew corn salad in winter
after Brussels sprouts well it was a cold garden
facing north so it was slow in spring better for summer
one of the knotted gray trees leaning against the wall
to the south was the mirabelle a snow of plum blossoms
swept across the valley in the morning sunlight
of a day in March and moved up the slope hour by hour
she told me later she thought it would be a year
of mirabelles unless it froze when she bent in her garden
she disappeared in the rows it took her a long time
to stand up to turn around to let herself through
the gate to walk to do anything at my age
I have all I need she said if I keep warm
late one day that summer she appeared at the wall
carrying a brown paper bag wet at the bottom
the mirabelles she whispered but she would not come in
we sat on the wall and opened the bag look she said
how you can see through them and each of us held up
a small golden plum filled with the summer evening

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