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