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The Fruit Shop

 Cross-ribboned shoes; a muslin gown,
High-waisted, girdled with bright blue;
A straw poke bonnet which hid the frown
She pluckered her little brows into
As she picked her dainty passage through
The dusty street.
"Ah, Mademoiselle, A dirty pathway, we need rain, My poor fruits suffer, and the shell Of this nut's too big for its kernel, lain Here in the sun it has shrunk again.
The baker down at the corner says We need a battle to shake the clouds; But I am a man of peace, my ways Don't look to the killing of men in crowds.
Poor fellows with guns and bayonets for shrouds! Pray, Mademoiselle, come out of the sun.
Let me dust off that wicker chair.
It's cool In here, for the green leaves I have run In a curtain over the door, make a pool Of shade.
You see the pears on that stool -- The shadow keeps them plump and fair.
" Over the fruiterer's door, the leaves Held back the sun, a greenish flare Quivered and sparked the shop, the sheaves Of sunbeams, glanced from the sign on the eaves, Shot from the golden letters, broke And splintered to little scattered lights.
Jeanne Tourmont entered the shop, her poke Bonnet tilted itself to rights, And her face looked out like the moon on nights Of flickering clouds.
"Monsieur Popain, I Want gooseberries, an apple or two, Or excellent plums, but not if they're high; Haven't you some which a strong wind blew? I've only a couple of francs for you.
" Monsieur Popain shrugged and rubbed his hands.
What could he do, the times were sad.
A couple of francs and such demands! And asking for fruits a little bad.
Wind-blown indeed! He never had Anything else than the very best.
He pointed to baskets of blunted pears With the thin skin tight like a bursting vest, All yellow, and red, and brown, in smears.
Monsieur Popain's voice denoted tears.
He took up a pear with tender care, And pressed it with his hardened thumb.
"Smell it, Mademoiselle, the perfume there Is like lavender, and sweet thoughts come Only from having a dish at home.
And those grapes! They melt in the mouth like wine, Just a click of the tongue, and they burst to honey.
They're only this morning off the vine, And I paid for them down in silver money.
The Corporal's widow is witness, her pony Brought them in at sunrise to-day.
Those oranges -- Gold! They're almost red.
They seem little chips just broken away From the sun itself.
Or perhaps instead You'd like a pomegranate, they're rarely gay, When you split them the seeds are like crimson spray.
Yes, they're high, they're high, and those Turkey figs, They all come from the South, and Nelson's ships Make it a little hard for our rigs.
They must be forever giving the slips To the cursed English, and when men clips Through powder to bring them, why dainties mounts A bit in price.
Those almonds now, I'll strip off that husk, when one discounts A life or two in a nigger row With the man who grew them, it does seem how They would come dear; and then the fight At sea perhaps, our boats have heels And mostly they sail along at night, But once in a way they're caught; one feels Ivory's not better nor finer -- why peels From an almond kernel are worth two sous.
It's hard to sell them now," he sighed.
"Purses are tight, but I shall not lose.
There's plenty of cheaper things to choose.
" He picked some currants out of a wide Earthen bowl.
"They make the tongue Almost fly out to suck them, bride Currants they are, they were planted long Ago for some new Marquise, among Other great beauties, before the Chateau Was left to rot.
Now the Gardener's wife, He that marched off to his death at Marengo, Sells them to me; she keeps her life From snuffing out, with her pruning knife.
She's a poor old thing, but she learnt the trade When her man was young, and the young Marquis Couldn't have enough garden.
The flowers he made All new! And the fruits! But 'twas said that he Was no friend to the people, and so they laid Some charge against him, a cavalcade Of citizens took him away; they meant Well, but I think there was some mistake.
He just pottered round in his garden, bent On growing things; we were so awake In those days for the New Republic's sake.
He's gone, and the garden is all that's left Not in ruin, but the currants and apricots, And peaches, furred and sweet, with a cleft Full of morning dew, in those green-glazed pots, Why, Mademoiselle, there is never an eft Or worm among them, and as for theft, How the old woman keeps them I cannot say, But they're finer than any grown this way.
" Jeanne Tourmont drew back the filigree ring Of her striped silk purse, tipped it upside down And shook it, two coins fell with a ding Of striking silver, beneath her gown One rolled, the other lay, a thing Sparked white and sharply glistening, In a drop of sunlight between two shades.
She jerked the purse, took its empty ends And crumpled them toward the centre braids.
The whole collapsed to a mass of blends Of colours and stripes.
"Monsieur Popain, friends We have always been.
In the days before The Great Revolution my aunt was kind When you needed help.
You need no more; 'Tis we now who must beg at your door, And will you refuse?" The little man Bustled, denied, his heart was good, But times were hard.
He went to a pan And poured upon the counter a flood Of pungent raspberries, tanged like wood.
He took a melon with rough green rind And rubbed it well with his apron tip.
Then he hunted over the shop to find Some walnuts cracking at the lip, And added to these a barberry slip Whose acrid, oval berries hung Like fringe and trembled.
He reached a round Basket, with handles, from where it swung Against the wall, laid it on the ground And filled it, then he searched and found The francs Jeanne Tourmont had let fall.
"You'll return the basket, Mademoiselle?" She smiled, "The next time that I call, Monsieur.
You know that very well.
" 'Twas lightly said, but meant to tell.
Monsieur Popain bowed, somewhat abashed.
She took her basket and stepped out.
The sunlight was so bright it flashed Her eyes to blindness, and the rout Of the little street was all about.
Through glare and noise she stumbled, dazed.
The heavy basket was a care.
She heard a shout and almost grazed The panels of a chaise and pair.
The postboy yelled, and an amazed Face from the carriage window gazed.
She jumped back just in time, her heart Beating with fear.
Through whirling light The chaise departed, but her smart Was keen and bitter.
In the white Dust of the street she saw a bright Streak of colours, wet and gay, Red like blood.
Crushed but fair, Her fruit stained the cobbles of the way.
Monsieur Popain joined her there.
"Tiens, Mademoiselle, c'est le General Bonaparte, partant pour la Guerre!"

Poem by Amy Lowell
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