Gayle Brandeis currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.
  • Gayle Brandeis currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.
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Kernel

  • When I discovered people
  • eat apricot kernels, 
  • use them in amaretto
  • and biscotti and apricot jam,
  • part of me was glad to learn
  • the world is more edible than I had known, but another part
  • blanched to think of that soft,
  • secret place being yanked
  • from its shell — a tender part of me
  • that wants to stay intact, wants to remain
  • a pale solitary seed, one that turns 
  • itself to cyanide if someone 
  • dares to fish it out.

Kumquats

  • The tiny tree outside our house was bare 
  • for six years after we moved in — a spindly set
  • of branches, a few dusty leaves,
  • no taller than my ribs. One year, it burst
  • into white blossoms, then hard green orbs 
  • that grew oblong, blushed orange: kumquats.
  • Our house is feeding us, I said. Our house 
  • finally thinks we’re worthy of its fruit.
  • Two months after I left, I drove up to the house
  • to pick up our daughter. So strange to know you 
  • were still inside those walls we loved,
  • those walls that held us together. The tree 
  • had just started to fruit when I moved out. A few 
  • kumquats still dangled like forgotten ornaments.
  • I wanted to pick one, but didn’t feel I had the right. 
  • My mouth could still remember them, though —
  • the sweetness of the rind, the shock 
  • of bitterness inside.

Fig Grove

  • I know how to find it now, but for years, 
  • I would stumble into the grove, unprepared
  • for its enchantments, the coolness of its air, 
  • the dapple of its light, the way the large fig 
  • trees stand with their arms wide open.
  • They are the sexiest trees I’ve ever seen, 
  • if trees can be sexy, the most muscular,
  • if trees can be muscular, their silvery skin 
  • sinuous and tendony, dancers holding space 
  • between leaps. They bring me right back into my own
  • skin, invite me to press myself against their cool, 
  • smooth, bark, to climb into their limbs 
  • and rest myself in any number of their crooks. 
  • Welcome, welcome, they say, welcome home.
  • And then there’s the one tree that fruits all over its body,
  • figs springing even from the trunk, every part of it bursting
  • into seed, as if it can’t contain itself, as if every cell 
  • wants to break into song, and that’s how I feel
  • when I stand in its presence, taking in its sugary breath —
  • each part of me alive, explosive, 
  • down to the deepest root.

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne); Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications); and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement; Self Storage (Ballantine); Delta Girls (Ballantine); and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award and was chosen as a statewide read in Wisconsin.

Two books are forthcoming in 2017: a memoir, The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (Beacon Press); and a collection of poetry, The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Press). She currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

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