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Kernel, Kumquats, Fig Grove

The sweetness of the rind, the shock of bitterness inside

Gayle Brandeis currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.
  • Gayle Brandeis currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

Kernel

  • When I discovered people
  • eat apricot kernels, 
  • use them in amaretto
  • and biscotti and apricot jam,
  • part of me was glad to learn
  • the world is more edible than I had known, but another part
  • blanched to think of that soft,
  • secret place being yanked
  • from its shell — a tender part of me
  • that wants to stay intact, wants to remain
  • a pale solitary seed, one that turns 
  • itself to cyanide if someone 
  • dares to fish it out.

Kumquats

  • The tiny tree outside our house was bare 
  • for six years after we moved in — a spindly set
  • of branches, a few dusty leaves,
  • no taller than my ribs. One year, it burst
  • into white blossoms, then hard green orbs 
  • that grew oblong, blushed orange: kumquats.
  • Our house is feeding us, I said. Our house 
  • finally thinks we’re worthy of its fruit.
  • Two months after I left, I drove up to the house
  • to pick up our daughter. So strange to know you 
  • were still inside those walls we loved,
  • those walls that held us together. The tree 
  • had just started to fruit when I moved out. A few 
  • kumquats still dangled like forgotten ornaments.
  • I wanted to pick one, but didn’t feel I had the right. 
  • My mouth could still remember them, though —
  • the sweetness of the rind, the shock 
  • of bitterness inside.

Fig Grove

  • I know how to find it now, but for years, 
  • I would stumble into the grove, unprepared
  • for its enchantments, the coolness of its air, 
  • the dapple of its light, the way the large fig 
  • trees stand with their arms wide open.
  • They are the sexiest trees I’ve ever seen, 
  • if trees can be sexy, the most muscular,
  • if trees can be muscular, their silvery skin 
  • sinuous and tendony, dancers holding space 
  • between leaps. They bring me right back into my own
  • skin, invite me to press myself against their cool, 
  • smooth, bark, to climb into their limbs 
  • and rest myself in any number of their crooks. 
  • Welcome, welcome, they say, welcome home.
  • And then there’s the one tree that fruits all over its body,
  • figs springing even from the trunk, every part of it bursting
  • into seed, as if it can’t contain itself, as if every cell 
  • wants to break into song, and that’s how I feel
  • when I stand in its presence, taking in its sugary breath —
  • each part of me alive, explosive, 
  • down to the deepest root.

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne); Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications); and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement; Self Storage (Ballantine); Delta Girls (Ballantine); and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award and was chosen as a statewide read in Wisconsin.

Two books are forthcoming in 2017: a memoir, The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (Beacon Press); and a collection of poetry, The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Press). She currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

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