The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm by Bethany Reid

The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm

by Bethany Reid 

MoonPath Press, 2024

reviewed by Carmen Germain

Tempted Away 

Bethany Reid’s award-winning new collection, The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm, contains plain-spoken elegies and lyrics. These are quiet poems to savor in a quiet place, and they expand and deepen with each reading. The cover art by Michelle Bear creates its own aesthetic pleasure with a ghostly image of a farmhouse in mauve and earth tones with a few sprightly bees on the picture plane.  The art is a perfect companion to the poems. MoonPath Press exemplifies editor Lana Hechtman Ayers’ dedication to poets of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and book designer Tonya Namura brings an artist’s eye to the task.       

I’m intrigued by the idea that an artist enters the world in one kind of life, finds another, and pays homage to the origins that made her new life. Among rich imagery and detail, the poems describe the logger/farmer family in Southwest Washington that nurtured Reid, a way of life that disappeared when the farm that had been in her family for generations was sold after the death of her father.  Reid became a poet from the influences of place and family, and the moving and honest poems in this collection honor those influences while also showing us how and why she desired a different life. 

I recognize this desire in myself and in friends who also were born and raised in small farm communities, how we fled those places but never established roots where we landed.  The poems in The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm speak to the contradiction and paradox of leaving a place physically but remaining there emotionally.  Ambivalence regarding leaving or staying in the place of one’s birth may be universal, and the up-and-down ride in these poems will resonate with many listeners and readers.                        

We see the longing to leave “In the First Temptation.”  Reid recalls the country road that had been gravel in the “kingdom of childhood” and then was “paved and striped”:

            we felt as though our Eden

            had been violated, made-up, dressed

            in a harlot’s clothes.  Traveling that road,

            how could we help but be tempted away?

Despite the road being tarted-up in the children’s view, it introduced a smooth temptation to get away.  I remember a similar gravel road from my childhood and how what became the tar road by being paved brought more Sunday drivers into our country “Eden.”  It no longer felt so country.  And it beckoned, as Reid writes, to bigger experiences outside of what we had known.

We also see the pull of the wider world in “World Book Encyclopedia”:

            I was always the child most keen for study,

            reading novels about India


            and China, the moors

            of England, the moons of Jupiter.

            How did grown-ups stand


            this ordinary life of house and barn

            and church, same duties,

            same faces, same meat and potatoes


            season after season, when the world

            in books beckoned?  Yet there was

            our mother, satisfied to call


            our five names aloud:  her India,

            her Appaloosa, her bright moons.


Indeed.  How could the “grown-ups stand” this constrained and jogtrot life?   Reid comes to understand later in her life that mysteries revealed in expanding her world through reading were present in the simple fulfillment her mother had in calling together her brood.  Tenderness and understanding are palpable in these lines.  Perspective is muted and changes with experience, and that older voice is clear here, but the repetition of “same” underscores Reid’s restlessness and boredom as a child with the family and farm,  and through reading, reading, and reading, the world was contained and explained and glorious.  Nothing was the same.   

Lines stand out that underscore this longing.  In “A Pee Chee of Lined Paper,” the girl proto-poet is tasked with taking over the barn chores of her older brother, who can now stay after school to play sports—lots of work falls to her, from slopping hogs to counting cows to field slogging to find strays—and she gets no thanks for it, is snapped at for being slower at the chores than her older brother.  But we’re told “This year she hides pencils / and paper in a nook under the eaves,” the tools of her future as a writer close at hand.  What was she writing?  How was she shaping her world?

In “Manna,” we hear the echo of “tempted away,” the outer world of difference inviting a future that will someday arrive, how the poet tells us, “Didn’t the handed-down / barn boots pinch and blister my feet?”  And in “Failure to Thrive,”  the horse-crazy girl-poet realizes her fantasy of what she’ll want when she grows up is dashed in the puny filly that’s born from a bred mare:  “I stood up / from her loss, stood alone / in the morning field, mist rising around us, /  and, oh, how fierce I was, pretending // I would no more pretend.”  We know the nascent poet did not fail to thrive, and we feel her spirit in this determined poem. 

And again, the tenderness:  the difference between what the women in her life accepted, as we see in “World Book Encyclopedia”—her mother’s “bright moons”— and what Reid became is clear in “Heavy with Fruit,” the poem that contrasts the life of her grandmother with her own:

                     my grandmother’s pear tree


            grows grizzled with age, tatted

            with doilies of moss, heavy with fruit


            that goes unpicked.  Matisse said

            he didn’t paint things, only the difference


            between things.  Differences between us

            deepen as I age, tree bark twisting


            over a length of wire.


These images and so many in The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm echo and resonate:  life can be like the metaphor of the pear tree, the “fruit that goes unpicked.”  How a tree will keep growing while its trunk is held back by the wire used to keep it upright, and the tree will become distorted, will “fail to thrive.”  In Reid’s astute, tender, and quiet but insistent poems, we feel the desire of the poet to be “tempted away,” and we feel the pull of the poet to stay.  

It’s impossible to return to a place that is no longer there.   But it’s impossible to leave a place that is no longer there.

(By happy coincidence we have a review of another new title by Bethany Reid herself here at Escape Into Life. You can check out her thoughts on The Familiar here–Seana)

Carmen Germain is the author of a chapbook and three poetry collections, the latest being Life Drawing (MoonPath Press, 2022).  Also a visual artist, she has paintings and drawings published in various poetry/art journals, including Aji, Caesura, and Oyster River Pages.  She has been a visiting artist/scholar at the American Academy in Rome.






Get The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm at distributors listed by MoonPath Press

MoonPath Press on Carmen Germain

Bethany Reid on Carmen Germain!

A whole lot of links to Bethany Reid’s work at Escape Into Life

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