“Mom’s Oranges” by Sharon Rauenzahn
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.
10/27/15 (rev. 6/12/2017)