The Promise of an Apricot

You run up the steps,
Swing open the door that’s never locked,
Wash your hands.
You’ve touched everything on the walk home from school–
Wired fences,
Gates,
Benches,
Tree barks,
Plants breaking through bricks and concrete,
A stranger’s gum stuck to your shoe.
It’s glued the smell of strawberries
To your fingertips.

You’re out of breath.
There’s homework to be done before
You can run out into the streets,
Chase the older boys in a wild bike ride;
Maybe join the girls for hopscotch and jumprope.
Not so much because of the adage about
Work before leisure,
Hammered into your mind
Through years of Soviet schooling,
As because, even then, you’d lived to
Break the rules about how girls get to play.
(You’ve never really known any other way.)

You run into the kitchen, where
You find your grandmother,
Hands in dough.
You sprout into the loop she makes with her arms,
Like a flower piercing through the earth to reach for the sun.
You find yourself in the softest embrace,
Your face pressed against her bosom.
(That smell of vanilla and rose petals,
Always.)
She lowers her shoulders
To embrace you without touching you with her hands.
When they aren’t in dough or inside a stocking or in a tub of sudsy water,
She holds your hands between hers;
The softness of her touch something
You don’t know yet you’ll live to mimic.
Only mimic,
But always.
Even when you’ve long come to realize that
It’s inimitable.

She asks you if you are hungry.
You say no,
Even though you are.
Time spent eating is
Time lost from running, so
You chase your thoughts
To your room, where
You solve problems,
Write an exposition,
Read some Chekhov
Because you must know the greats.
You might be called up to the teacher’s desk,
Made to describe the garments and disposition of a character,
Or maybe to recite a passage of her choosing.

Your grandmother walks in with a plate–
Two apricots,
A handful of walnuts,
Still moist,
Fresh from a tree,
A perfectly circle pool of honey,
Dark ember and perfectly still.
Eat, she says.
She can touch you now.
You feel her softness,
Even as her fingers are just coming to
From having been washed of dough in ice cold water.
You press your cheek against
Her hand resting on your shoulder.
You thank her.
She kisses your head and leaves the room,
As softly as she had entered.

You pick up the smaller apricot,
Leave the one that’s a deeper orange–
Best for last,
A sweetness to rival the honey.
You open the fruit;
It splits into two suns,
One in each hand.
You put the half not eclipsed by the seed
Into your mouth.
Your face makes a leap forward,
For the plate to catch the juice that
Bursts from your lips
Trickles down your chin.
You wipe it.
You lick the side of your hand,
The pinky, and the ring finger.
Even the taste buds trained to only
Welcome sours and bitters into the palette
Surrender to the nectar.
The sweetness makes you squint.

You change out of your school uniform.
You slip one of the two pits into your pocket.
Later, exhausted from pedaling,
Running,
Leaping,
You sit on a curb and rub the belly of the pit against the
Edge of the curb.
You stop when the opening is just large enough.
You always know just when to stop.
You get off the curb,
Wipe your behind;
You’ve sat on everything since you left home–
Soot covered rooftops,
Curbs,
Piles of dirt,
The center of the soccer field.

You walk–
Up a hill,
Through a tunnel,
Although your grandmother tells you not to,
In the dark,
Down the street,
Around the corner,
Up to the second floor, and
Straight into the kitchen,
All the while whistling songs on the apricot pit.

On the stove, is a pot,
Steaming unbearable sweetness;
Bubbles gathered around the edges,
Like embers on a gentle flame.
She must have bought too many;
There will be bread with butter and apricot jam,
In the morning, before
You loop into another day of
Childhood.

Years later,
Desperately seeking the comfort of home,
You go into the supermarket that never sleeps.
You find the row of apricots,
Bright orange,
Neatly stacked,
Identical.
This tells you what you’ve already learned,
Having discovered fruit after fruit
That sweet nectars are of
Those things you left behind,
Nowhere to be found
On this side.
But you pick four apricots,
Softest to the touch,
Most deeply orange.
You pay for them,
Already regretting the longing for the taste you’d come for,
Knowing full well it wasn’t to be found.

You struggle to split the fruit in half.
It resists your pull,
As if it can’t bear the burden of
Fulfilling your longing for home.
(Only an immigrant knows
What a small fruit can promise to
Deliver from a birthland deserted.)
You dig your fingernails into the crack;
You pry open the fruit.
You smell nothing but the
Memory of apricots
Flooding your senses in bazaars
Filled with gifts from all the trees,
The memory of tasting them before even taking a bite.

You bite into one of the four,
As you wait to cross the street.
You begin to chew,
But decide not to–
It shouldn’t be so unpleasant;
Reminds you of the erasers
You would chew off pencils,
While dreaming of life on the other side.

You step over to the corner,
Spit out the fruit, and
Rest the bag with the other three
Atop the overflowing trash bin,
All the while telling the farmers,
I am sorry;
It’s not your fault the sun and soil don’t grow sweetness here.
Perhaps they know;
Perhaps they, too, have searched for a fruit of home.

You are here now.
You’re on the other side.
You have everything–
A debit card,
A television with a remote control,
A phone that takes photos,
Reminds you of birthdays,
Records conversations.
You have skyscrapers,
Food from every corner of the world.
You have opportunity
(Too often relentlessly replaced by hope).
But two decades after having left
The valleys of Armenia,
Her sun and soil,
Having searched in all five boroughs,
Often directed by well meaning friends,
Who’d swear to the sweetness of the fruit,
At this or that grocer’s stand,
Farmers market,
Grove,
Imported from this or that faraway land,
You still haven’t found an apricot that will
Bring you back to Armenia, to
Her valleys and groves, to
Your childhood.

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