A Reckoning With Johnny Appleseed

It sounds nice, doesn’t it, walking with a bag of seeds,
papering each village with a nursery of sweet orbs,
leaving behind something that will grow and grow.a picnic table rests on lush green grass. Behind, fruit trees stand in shining, late afternoon sun.
Years after I heard the name in elementary school, 
I’m questioning him.
They told us he was tall and had a long beard.
I wish they’d asked us to go a little deeper.
What is the impact of apples?
What relationships have they formed
with insects and birds and people?
Who planted the trees in your neighborhood?
Johnny returned to every stand of trees he planted,
came back every two years to check up on them.  
But along the way he converted Indians to Christianity
and planted dogfennel too, which spread West and ran wild as a weed,
just another good green thing gone mad with power.
The article on the internet told me the Indians thought Johnny was
touched by a Great Spirit, but I want to know what else they said.
I’ve done it too, of course, thought I had something good to give
and maybe some of it was, but planted it in the ground before
asking what was there first, or what might grow instead.
I hope he put his palms to the soil and listened.
I hope he asked permission before speaking psalms.
This is what I’m trying to do with everyone who came before me.
The heroes from history class.
The ancestors I know about and the ones I don’t.
Questioning the seeds they planted with good intentions.
Looking at the grown trees and the shape of their shadows.
Teasing apart the weeds from what’s sweet and round.
Wondering what to put in my bag and carry on, 
what to uproot, what to leave behind.

Originally Published in Verse-Virtual, May 2023.