An orange, cut in neat slices across the grain,
Sits on the cutting board,
Ready for teeth and tongue.
It’s a messy proposition, vibrant, advertising
Sour sweetness on the plate, in the scented air.
My mother loves oranges.
In childhood, she had nothing.
Family of nine living in a defunct service station
Just outside her Colorado town.
Hard-packed dirt floor,
Stained-glass kitchen window
Pieced together from ends of beer bottles
Scavenged from the roadside,
Set in a wall built of oil cans
Packed with sand against rain and wind and snow.
She tells of fixing the chimney in a blizzard,
Her dad coughing below, coughing, coughing
As lead dust from the munitions factory
Seeps from his lungs into blood and brain.
War work, for a man too old to fight.
Mom taught me to peel oranges
With straight shallow cuts, stem to navel,
Pulling the peels off in strips like bright orange canoes,
Or cutting round and round, a corkscrew spiral.
Throw it over your shoulder
For the letter of a name
Of the man you will marry,
P for Peter, G for Garland.
Everything she had was a hand-me-down.
Clothes, books, whooping cough.
Her father’s faith.
Only the orthopedic shoes were hers alone.
Heavy, ugly, wear them every day
Or grow up a cripple.
I thought she grew up in Little House on the Prairie,
Not the 1950’s we used to watch on tv.
Other girls had poodle skirts, saddle shoes,
Boyfriends with cars.
My mother had oranges.
Golden, ripe, sunshine in a box at Christmas
From her California grandmother.
She still eats one every day.
Or two, if she’s forgotten the one
She already had this morning.
She was raised to be tidy, so even the peels
Don’t give her away.
Only the sweet mist of orange zest
In air scented with memory.
Kimmy’s house was a fascination. Antique sofas you couldn’t touch, covered, like the lampshades, with thick clear plastic. Plastic on the Persian rugs. Crackling plastic, a living room you couldn’t live in. There had been normal furniture, some kind of regular old sofa, carpet on the floor, when we first moved in next door, but at some point in her madness, Adelina had made her home a museum. Miguel, the crazy one, stayed locked in his bedroom when he wasn’t at work soldering circuit-boards or whatever it was he did there. Eric the horticulturalist left his bongs and pot-growing magazines in the one tiny room with a sofa you could sit on, plastic and all. And Kimmy was there, about my age, the same red hair as me, the same freckles on the nose, my magical unrelated twin living right next door.
Kimmy also inhabited that house, somehow. She could sit in the tv room and read a book or play with toys. She had a bedroom with a nearly empty closet, two or three toys, a shelf maybe, a dresser, twin beds, one book that I can remember, and an enormous candy egg, the size of an ostrich egg, with a hole in one end where you could look in and see bunnies and chicks frolicking in the grass. We would break bits of ancient icing off it and nibble at it, months or years after whatever Easter whim brought it into the house. Adelina had real ones, beautiful hand-painted hen’s eggs with miniature scenes inside. An ostrich egg on a stand on a glass display table. Intricate jeweled confections that must have been replicas of Faberge eggs, that we were allowed oh so carefully to open or turn or peak into.
When I was younger, before the stained glass, before the baby grand piano, before the carpet was ripped out, before the sanding and staining and grooving and pegging of the old original oak floors, it was the kind of house that might have had a small skull next to a candle, on a shelf overlooked by a painting of an angel, hovering over a small white child with a bandaged head, held lovingly by a dark woman whose forehead was pierced by a thorn. I was fascinated by the thorn, by the piercing of it, by the limp white child with the blond hair, but mostly with the thorn and the blood. We did not have a house with paintings of blood and thorns and limp white children. I think we had a plaque or two, saying this or that about Godliness and homelife, “Whatever is done for Christ will last” or an etched-wood Psalm. An upright piano, food in the fridge, cans in the cupboard, sofas you could sit on, toys neighbors gave us but plenty of them, clothes church families gave us, enough not to go without.
No bongs, no ornate eggs, no antiques. No screaming fights on a Saturday evening, when one or the other of Kimmy’s brothers would walk her over to our place to be out of the fight, then fetch her back again after it was done, some hour long past my 8:30 bedtime. No skulls. No thorns, except on the old rose bush in our backyard that hardly ever bloomed, or on the bougainvilleas we called the “paper flower” bushes, or on the pyracantha by our front door. Pyracantha and oleander and bottle brush– everything in our yard was prickly or poisonous.
Kimmy’s backyard had an olive tree, and supposed tangerines that tasted like sour limes, and a great enormous spiky dinosaur pine they called the Monkey Tree that every few years dropped massive cones larger than pineapples tumbling and crashing down through the branches and chasing us across her back lawn, or denting some stranger’s car as it drove through the alley behind our houses. Kimmy’s house was exotic, dangerous, dark. Ours was light, happy, ordinary. My parents argued privately, in low voices, after we went to bed. They still divorced, of course, even without skulls or thorns or intricate ornate eggs. We kept our own darknesses in closets and under the bed. I hardly knew they were there.
“Thoughts on a Painting by Paul Cezanne” by Sharon Rauenzahn
The father sits, ankles crossed, eyes tilted down into his evening news. His brown shoes are sturdy, well-worn, the trousers look like work jeans, and maybe they were. He has strong fingers, a calm, serious face. You can’t tell, in this study by Paul Cezanne, whether his father smiled much, whether his eyes were bright when he lifted them from the paper. He wears a dark brown jacket over a button collar shirt. He’d be fashionable today, in San Jose or Seattle, cuffed work jeans, that dark jacket, a neat black cap pulled over his forehead. I imagine him with a cellphone, swiping past current events, past the horse race outcomes and the boxing scores, but who gets news like that anymore? Those belong to paper news, and my own childhood. What would he read instead? Imagine him giving a short grunt of a laugh at some silly photo of his grandson, tossing the phone down on a table that’s out of view, looking up, as he never looks up, hasn’t looked up for 150 years.
But that whole painting is a joke, I discover, according to my own phone of limitless knowledge. His father never read that paper, it’s the one Cezanne’s friend Emile Zola wrote for, who encouraged him to pursue art instead of banking. So picture the father again, coffee cup in hand, reading the Chronicle in Starbucks, where they still take a newspaper. Picture him a venture capitalist, confident and relaxed in his grey jeans, his work shoes, the white socks, his dark jacket and white cuffs, no tie, that neat cap, those strong hands holding the paper with two fingers. “You’ll never make any money,” he says. You might sell a Cezanne for $20 million these days, if the government lets you, but Snapchat sold itself for $33 billion this morning, for a company that makes disappearing photos. “You’re in the wrong line of work,” the old man says. He squints a little, eyes tilted down to his paper. I wonder if he needs reading glasses, but won’t wear them. 150 years reading that paper, and he never looks up.
“The Problem with Progressives” by Sharon Rauenzahn
The problem with progressives, my husband said
Walking into the kitchen while I cooked
The problem with progressives, he said, is that
Don’t say it, I thought
Just don’t say it
Let it be unsaid
Don’t say we aren’t incremental enough
That we try to fix everything at once
That we are too pessimistic about people’s abilities
That we are too optimistic about government
Don’t say what you are thinking
That we let identity drive too much policy
That we have no sense of unity
That we want too much and understand too little
Just don’t say
What I know you are thinking
Married seventeen years, I can read your mind
The problem with progressives, my husband says
Pulling off his glasses, rubbing his eyes
He looks tired
I hope he likes this tofu curry
I’ve never made it before
I hope he doesn’t say
The problem with progressives, he says, is that
When you look at one thing with them
Everything else around it
Goes out of focus
I wish I’d gotten bi-focals instead, he says
I should have known he’d say that
That smells really good, he says
Is that tofu?
I wish I’d gotten the bi-focals, he said
When you jump out of a
Your stomach rises as you do
As the sand
Hanging below you
Then rushing up
Slow at first
If you’ve jumped high enough
Out over the playground
Higher than houses
Then you come down hard
Swallowing your feet
Pressing up into your bent knees
Pulling your hands and face
Down into the sun-heated grit
Getting up again
Laughing the sand
Out of your
Dusting the sand off your
Getting old is like that
Stomach not quite under control
The land rushing up
Slow at first
Not laughing so much now
As you cough the
Out of your mouth
Getting harder to stand back up
From the dust
Swallowing your feet
the new house (any house)
new job (any job)
for my birthday
for him to notice me
for them to appreciate me
to grow up
for my kids to grow up
waiting to die?
waiting for life most of all
waiting for justice to fall, to keep falling
like the rain we’ve been waiting for
dry so long you forget what it tastes like
he said he’d be here
how long has it been?
two thousand years?
i feel like it’s
just around the corner
like waiting for that bus
leaning out into the street
the smell of diesel in my mouth
that’s what hope tastes like
Momentarily blinded by the light of the star
Shining down on me from the Walmart sign
I gather my courage, enter in
Where has my heart led me, again this year?
Looking, as ever, for that one perfect gift
Will it make someone happy?
Knowing only love would lead me here
This day of all days
Searching out that long-awaited, eagerly anticipated
Representation of love
For what else is a gift, any gift
Freely (or expensively) given?
Socks, slippers, this year’s fought-over Furby
Yet there is love even here, even at Walmart
One more shopping day before Christmas
I know Christ died
That things are only things
Grass fading, flowers falling
But today, this day made for man
I will be battered and bumped
I will seek and not find
I will wish for something simpler
A little more real
All the time picturing
Little boy Jesus
Playing with Myrrh
Wishing for a bicycle