for Judy on her 50th birthday
We are the children
our parents warned us against,
breaking hearts of mothers
who can only be ourselves:
taking wrong sustenance,
neglecting posture and sleep,
not living as truly
as they might have liked us to.
Even the sense of family
our mother knew has crumbled,
bonds of trust like mushroom heads
crushed by buffeting winds:
you have yours, our sister hers,
I mine—as much distance and time
between us as the sticky web
we call on expected intervals,
write when we think to,
make pilgrimages like stunned arabs
in bethlehem for nieces’ sake,
giving them glimpses of communities
both larger and smaller than the ones
they could fashion on their own.
How unlike her own brothers and sisters
we are: our mother’s people
scattered, as we did, then drew together
like fingers in a closing fist,
mushrooms pushing their brave heads
into the cold air prematurely,
taking close comfort
in their neighbors’ gills,
umbrellas against the unexpected elements.
Still, they made her cry when the time came,
weighing her down with silver chains,
fairy rings of celebration,
mouths filled with glittering teeth
biting through smiles, drawing blood,
and here am I now,
repeating the ritual
with reminders from a distance,
nothing learned from personal history.
The day hangs like a pivot, a hinge
to time’s own door, and as you pass through
memory turns in my mind like a bright coin,
the way she cried out,
tears like silver on her flushed cheeks,
not merely tears, but pain,
and my own confusion:
was it they she cried, the way
they’d deserted her with their closeness,
or herself, the line she’d tried to draw,
the adage she’d left for us?
And will we, in blind love,
make you cry, reminding you
of time slipping past, stars
winking out in the heartless sky?
Their love took the form
of pieces of silver, strung together
like stars, links on a chain.
Ours is white fruit, fragile as ancient paper
but filled with pungent juice—
stalks firm in love’s vague mycelium,
spanning distance, time, generation,
drawing us together even in silence,
baring its teeth at the indifference of stars.
Questions and Answers
What inspired “White Fruit”?
I wrote this poem for my sister Judy on her birthday, I don’t remember which, but a significant one, her 50th I think.
What poetic techniques did you use in “White Fruit”?
The poem is written in the form of a “letter” to my sister but goes beyond mere birthday greetings, becoming a meditation on family.