Heirloom, an essay by Shin Yu Pai | Möbius, The Poetry Magazine


By Shin Yu Pai

Migration Issue, Fall 2015 | Möbius, The Poetry Magazine

The day after a heavy rainstorm, I return to Piper’s Orchard to complete installation work on a project that I’ve been working on all summer. Using vinyl stencils and sunlight, I’ve burned words from a long poem into the ripening peels of various heritage and antique apple varieties. As a photographer, I’m drawn to low-tech processes and little seemed as basic as harnessing the rays of the sun and using the orchard as a giant light-sensitive surface.

When I started thinking about doing an installation project in the orchard a year ago, I originally imagined writing and installing a poetic text that could contrast heirloom apples with the Arctic apple – a non-browning GMO apple that had just come on the market. I had encountered the antique orchard on hikes to the beach and wondered about its presence on public land. Piper’s seemed like the perfect place to install a public art project. I phoned the orchard’s resident tree expert to ask him about the apple varieties that color up the best and scheduled a private tour.

On that visit, I brought my 10-month old infant. I watched Tomo marvel at the trees, reach up to grasp apples, and delight at being outdoors. My vision for the poem evolved into writing a long text that could serve as a guide to families and visitors that could illuminate the hidden stories of Piper’s. The poem includes everything that I wanted to share with Tomo about the land and the trees and acknowledges this specific moment in his life, of acquiring words and language. I wrote HEIRLOOM in 26 sections, structuring the section titles loosely after the alphabet. And it’s these carefully curated words that are burned into the apple skins.

To create a version of HEIRLOOM that could endure beyond the cycle of a harvest, I produced an audio version of the project that includes a reading of HEIRLOOM mixed with sonic field recordings of the orchard captured throughout the seasons. Conditions constantly change in Piper’s: Stenciled apples fall off the trees when they go ripe and disappear as a result of human intervention. The orchard has taught me about the challenges of making time-based work that mashes up against natural decay – helped me to develop a greater tolerance of ambiguity and surprise, while finding ways to continually reimagine what is meaningful.

Photo Credit | “Keepsake,” Shin Yu Pai (2015) and “Bounty,” Paul Brookshire (2015)

Shin Yu Pai is the author of several poetry collections including AUX ARCS (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010), Sightings (1913 Press, 2008), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). Her limited edition artist book projects include Hybrid Land (Filter Press, 2011) and Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks, 2007). She is the recipient of awards from the Awesome Foundation, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, and 4Culture and is a three-time fellow of The MacDowell Colony. Shin Yu is the current Poet Laureate of the City of Redmond in Washington. 

One thought on “Heirloom, an essay by Shin Yu Pai | Möbius, The Poetry Magazine

  1. Pingback: Heirloom, an essay by Shin Yu Pai | Möbius, The Poetry Magazine | Möbius,

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