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The Green Apple of Geneva

by Reed Venrick



Was it the second or third night?

Not enough money for a hostel.

Trying to sleep on a park bench

in Ariana Park—two passing cops

on bicycles woke me—one swinging

his baton, one flipping through

my passport, checking for visas.


—Yes, oui.

—Before you arrive, you stay in Italia?

—Yes, officer, oui.

—You need not say oui.


—You how arrived here?

—By train, officer.

—From what station you departed?

—From Florence…Firenze, officer.

—You need not say "officer."

—Sure, oui.

—Why come here to Geneva?

—Making a connection to New York, monsieur.

—Show your ticket, si'l vous plait.

—Of course, monsieur.

—You need not say "monsieur."


I handed over my ticket, which showed

that my flight back to New York was still

a fortnight away. Would they take me

to jail? But the first officer spoke in French

to the other—slapped the passport back

in my hand—said some words—do not

find me sleeping in the park again.


So I left the park, and after strolling

for an hour through the drizzling streets,

and when the harder rain began, I entered

an apartment house's hallway, where I collapsed

near passersby, giving looks of disapproval,

though once, when a smoky-eyed girl leaned

and spoke kindly, I had to smile and say,

"Je ne sai pas."


The fourth or fifth day with no money,

no food, I was sitting on a park bench, staring

across the lake, up to Mount Blanc.

Never having fasted, my body was weak,

my mind dizzy—waves of panic attacks

made it impossible to sit still. Once when

I stood up too fast, a shower of stars

ignited the air over the lake, I began

to hallucinate: I felt myself floating

above the water—I sat down, but

like Icarus, feared I'd drown.


I grabbed Rousseau's Confessions

from my pack, sprawled on the open grass,

devoted myself to translating French.

I found it comforting to think he too

must have spent many hours here,

strolling under these trees—composing

lines for his Social Contract.


But increasingly restless with hunger,

I wandered wider and rambled around the park.

To my surprise, I discovered that the U.N. building,

the Palais des Nations, was part of Ariana Park.

Then I saw a mirage, an apple orchard seemed

to appear on the palace grounds. I closed

my eyes, hallucinating again, surely, seeing

a vision of apples hanging, but no, they must

be real—because a chain link fence guarded.


Green apples hanging by the thousands

from hundreds of orchard trees—I hurried 'round,

passed again. Should I jump the fence?

That night, I slept again in the apartment hallway,

but my unconscious mind became obsessive,

dreaming of green apples—and me peering

out at the world—I remembered a painting that

I'd seen in the Metropolitan by Rene Magritte.


The next evening—my fifth or sixth day of hunger—

I went to the chain link fence, threw

my pack and sleeping bag over, climbed

over the fence and grabbed my first apple—

biting in—but spiting out the sour flesh.

Still early August, with many weeks needed

until apples matured—still, I felt relieved

to roll out my sleeping bag and rest my

head back on a trunk's bark. As I looked up

at the waxing moon—I visualized a green apple

hanging before me, just like in my dream.


But sleeping rough is hard to do for hours long.

By morning, I'd risen several times to pick apples

and abate my hunger. Under moonlight, I searched

the heavy branches and more trees for riper apples,

but all were sour. So tart, I could only swallow a bite

or two at once. Still I knew they had nutrition.


In the days after, every time I closed my eyes

to meditate, I sank into my unconscious—

where a green apple waited—floating before me.

Merci, Rene Magritte and Le fils du homme,

for showing me where the real found the surreal.

At last, I was catching on to surrealism.