(the Princess and)
A pea-sized shadow cast by his doubt gathered the corners of my world and shook him out, like the crumbs of summer picnics, like the grains an oyster swallowed. There’s a knot inside my chest. There’s a dent the shape of a pellet at my back, the kind that’s scattered through a field of peas to kill the partridge and the crow. Luckily they placed a pea beneath my mattress also, and at dawn the prince will gloat, my purity is proven in my pain. But if I could, I’d be so dull from use he wouldn’t even register as loss. The crown descends upon me like a vise; his fingers curve, my life is circumscribed.
(the secretary of the United States Chamber of Commerce; the Sicilians, and)
There is nothing so innocent and so confiding in its expression as the small green face of the freshly shelled pea. Asparagus is pushy and bossy, lettuce is blowsy and loud. Radishes are playful and gay, but the little green pea is so helpless and friendly that it makes really sensitive stomachs suffer to see the way he is treated on average at home. Just fling him to water and leave him to boil —and that’s that, said William Wallace Irwin, secretary of the United States Chamber of Commerce. On March 31, 1282, Sicilians rebelling against the French murdered anyone who couldn’t say chickpea—cece—in Italian.
The banana plant is... not a tree, but a giant herb, like lilies, orchids and palms. The trunk is made of sheaths of overlapping leaves. The name derives from the Arabic for finger; bundles are called hands. The rhizome gives a shoot; at nine months the inflorescence from the foliated circlet is as large as seven meters. Three days after that, a bud hangs on the plant. On the fifth the bud turns red and starts to pout. On the seventh day the leaves which covered it are falling down and two days later you can see the first banana hands. What a sight the whole thing is: The violent head thrusts like a Dorothy Iannone phallus: blended male-female; sometimes it’s called a heart. No wonder horticulturists suspect it was the first fruit in the world. I love the flower’s progeny, the creamy trinity that’s stitched with dark brown sand-sized seeds. It draws a teenage couple’s (my parents’) thoughts to marriage across banana splits in sun-swept cafes. When its green love is shipped across the colder continents, we find (I’m told) Russian children queued in snow-blown markets through the dawn to take their wonderful bananas home.
By now I have forgotten the one name I couldn’t name you. Pleasure, pleasure, said your voice, and turning sheets of white, moon-threads in somnolent poppy fields, I walked the same long stretch of earth I had before, I bit the same red mouth, and asked the same long question, rolling quiet sleeves. The name the youngling body couldn’t bend to fit. Because you were the wiser, on your hipbone, bright white skin, I left my slipping marks, slate blue. That’s all I learned of memory. We knew this year they’d say the poppy field is gone, that onions bloom and chamomile; the sky is green above you, my sleepy, gorgeous lie.
The branches of the purple plum sway against the wind. How can I not think of him? But home is far, is far away. And I’m not anywhere. In memory the orchards cast their silver over rounded hills, and Alexander’s twiggy groves shed their rosy little suns. Along the window sills the shadows of luxuriant plums bed them tenderly. Tell me now, where is that wind and where the distance it traverses, the cliffs, the shards of rain, the fist, the knuckles whitening on limbs along the roadside? I’m so hungry that the air will peel itself like fruit as I pass by.
Can’t you see how this is love? The nitrates, phosphates, ardently precise and drilled into the spreading furrows. Everything lies still —maybe there’s a god involved—green tongues awake. And on the summer morning porch a patient kind of courtesy, a wrinkled face beneath a hat inquiring, tea or coffee?—asking how you slept, then slipping through the sticky stalks that shake out wind. I think about how trustingly we fall through vacuumed space from which the earth emerges like a seed, and though we cannot hear the sun, that old song with a well-known air whose hum heats up the roads, the skin, those avenues of greed and generosity, we taste its gold.
Little did the people guess, those evenings weaving pumpkin mats—above, the fresh sky big with unborn gods—that seven thousand years later this fruit would clutch the coals the devil gave to Stingy Jack, who, failing to achieve heaven or hell, burned through turnips, beets, potatoes, back and forth across the Anglo world. It’s just as well they didn’t know, since people get the gods they merit. Cinderella, waltzing in her starry shoes among the rich hodgepodge of mice and ladies, far better filled her own pumpkin than Stingy Jack did. But maybe they knew.
She’s the Cordelia of the three Native American sisters—squash, corn and beans. The “bland one” Europeans scorned was known for her powers of fertility at home by any family in the South with fields. How she was called the darling of the gods, how she was there in the first caves, her scattered stems and skins and seeds, like detritus of love, or simply, of a day. A gown for every season: In winter she wore brown and orange, in summer she wore yellow, green. Last century, stripped bare and sheathed in cream, a French guy called her “Spain’s revenge” and threw her in the garbage bin.
Long green velvet stars with milk-white pearls for seeds, it thickens soups and stews with its sheer and sticky silk. It came to us from Africa with news our language has forgotten. Fried in cornmeal, pearls recede, a housedress, then, and beads of sweat, and—why not?—a tall iced tea. They called it nkruma and sowed the fields their masters owned. They visited the parent plants in death and flying dreams just off the shores of temperate seas across the ocean cemetery. Gather, bind us, gather us, against the produce stores of history, their sold-out countries.
My future father is in the post office turning the combination lock to his narrow silver box. He’s dusty from the rice harvest. It’s 1967. His purple thumbnail will fall off next week. There’s a postcard of a beach from his sister, and a card from the local branch of the Selective Services. He takes the mail to his yellow haired wife. He is twenty, she, eighteen. His dinner is ready, the floor gleams—you can see her three-month-old wedding ring in it, reaching for the envelope. By the time I’m born, he’ll be the only one of five drafted that day who is still alive.
Before the tongue there were the words, hear oh Israel! Words that dreamed my absent ear, as the garden fruit dreamed my missing mouth, since Solomon planted, two thousand years ago, the tree on this mountain, now hardly a mount, the press of feet above harvests of bones, below harvests of fruit. It’s waiting for me, fertile still, its fruits, crushed between two stones, spill into jars for my use, frying things, the lighting of lamps, or shallow pools for challah lifted to the Sabbath’s ample lips. My daughter asks why was it a miracle, eight nights of oil—fighting men don’t till the soil but Greek athletes poured and rubbed until they shone. Come home, those branches scratch, no, wave, come home.
Marcela Sulak is the author of Decency (Black Lawrence Press, 2015) and Immigrant (Black Lawrence Press, 2010), as well as a chapbook, Of All the Things that Don’t Exist, I Love You Best (Finishing Line Press, 2008). She has co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres (Rose Metal Press, 2015) and has translated four collections of poetry from Czech, Hebrew, and French. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.