Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Memories of Fruit #1: The Persistence of Peaches

More peaches. Juicy and cold. No peach pie yet because we eat them too fast. But soon.

Growing up we had peaches in our backyard. My grandmother and I would sit out on the stone step at the back door on a summer's night and eat a peach we had just picked. The first bite was my favorite - puncturing that fuzzy flesh and then sucking up the juice right down to the pit. I remember the hard stone of the stoop under my bony butt. The hard stone where my great grandmother had fallen during her stroke. She lay inside in a hospital bed unable to speak and unable to walk. Sitting and eating the peach was our little thing - my gramma and me- a quiet close to a day spent bent over doing factory work or in my case talking to tulip trees barely held together by light and riding my wagon around the neighborhood.

A few years later, they started spraying the neighborhood for mosquitoes. The trees didn't die instantly. They deteriorated over time until finally they stopped bearing fruit. I have an enduring memory of them - their branches cut off, gnarled and grotesque against the darkening sky. I would sit out on the stoop and throw pebbles at their trunks. Or sometimes I'd hurl myself at their trunks hoping to wake up their roots. But no life was left in them. No matter how hard I shook. Finally, I sat down against the biggest's blackening base and waited. Just waited and cried. After my grandmother had them cut down I would stand on top of the stump and pretend I was the tree spreading my branches against the sky. Or I'd jump up and down on the stumps mindlessly aching for peaches.

From Blossoms
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

The Weight of Sweetness
No easy thing to bear, the weight of sweetness.

Song, wisdom, sadness, joy: sweetness
equals three of any of these gravities.

See a peach bend
the branch and strain the stem until
it snaps.
Hold the peach, try the weight, sweetness
and death so round and snug
in your palm.
And, so, there is
the weight of memory:

Windblown, a rain-soaked
bough shakes, showering
the man and the boy.
They shiver in delight,
and the father lifts from his son's cheek
one green leaf
fallen like a kiss.

The good boy hugs a bag of peaches
his father has entrusted
to him.
Now he follows
his father, who carries a bagful in each arm.
See the look on the boy's face
as his father moves
faster and farther ahead, while his own steps
flag, and his arms grow weak, as he labors
under the weight of peaches.

Both Poems by Li-Young Lee

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