It turns out, you can eat a memory. We planted the lemon tree before you were born; we thought we would live in that house forever (we thought we would live forever). We chose citrus because the hard-skinned fruit grows well in harsh desert climates: before I was born, my parents prayed for daughters for similar reasons. I was ten when my parents asked me to help pick from the glimmering lines of fruit trees, smells on the wind decorating the outdoor market. We chose the lemon for its many uses: to make drinks laced with tart sugar, slices frozen & used as sour ice cubes, or squeezed atop cilantro rice. Later, when my brothers convinced me to play with a kitchen knife, threading it between my fingers in lightning stabs until I moved too quick and spilled blood staining my clean white shirt, they opened just the top rounded edge of one of the preripe fruit and held me down and squeezed its thick juice into my eyes until I promised I wouldn’t tell. I said I fell. Yellow and I have a complex history; I once stared at the sun so long I couldn’t see straight for days, floating lights at the center of my sight, twisting my world of vision into a target: I only had to point. Crosshairs on rosebushes. Crosshairs on face, glimmering with sweat. The memories, now, still blurred: sons instead of daughters. Lemons instead of plums. They joined the basketball team while I stayed at home studying silt, the colors of stars, and the sapling grew slowly, but it grew; its previously green buds had begun to reflect light from the corners of morning sky. Before my cornea healed, I practiced seeing everything in periphery: melted toy trucks in the heat, autumn leaves, golden shoes. I couldn’t watch TV except on my side, eyes on the ceiling, and I couldn’t gaze out my telescope at all. But I digress. After I left home for college, my parents sold the house. I lost my tree, not only physically, but in the mind– years passed–the gnarled limbs & roots grew disfigured, shapes losing focus under the lens of time. I could taste it in my mouth: something uncertain. A sweetness lost. I realized that someday I would die and I wanted to say goodbye to the growing things which will outlive me. Today I walked by the old home and saw you: a boy alone in the yard, one leg on a trembling stepladder, the highest fruit shining over a manicured lawn.
James O’Leary (they/them) is a bi, gender-fluid poet and writer from Arizona. James’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Frontier, The Indianapolis Review, the minnesota review, and Foglifter. James holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. You can find James on Twitter @thesundaypoet