Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Juice (2002)

I turned 13 during my first summer
in Florida, hard-ripped from my
Chicago home when my parents split.
We moved into a new subdivision near
Winter Haven that had been torn from
an orange grove. Just beyond our house
the streets unpaved themselves into thickets
where bulldozers jawed whole trees, eager
to uproot slow makings for a fast buck.

My wounds and the grove’s grafted into
each other through a season of fire,
my parents crossed like swords over
my puberty, old Florida parceled in
fruit bags of Eden. Loss and desire mingled,
sugared, swelled: then burst from every
pore in sweetly mutinous grog.

There were six orange trees in our
yard to plunder; I must have picked
and squeezed two quarts of fresh juice
every day, greedy for its slicksweet pour.
The first gulp always surprised me
with its sharp ardor, thick and loose,
springing a thirst inside mere parch.

That first summer was archangel-
ically hot, a humid blear which called
all earthborn things to high heaven.
I sent my dreams that way as I
hurled baseballs at a pitchback
screen, my wild pitches thonking
like heads on the wood fence.
To dive later into the pool was like
a belt of that juice: delirium plunged in
joy, the pool’s bottom a glade of bright
glitters shushed in blue. I swam lengths
underwater then perched at the edge,
head and shoulders resting on hot concrete
with my legs drifting below. Lulled by
Carole King on the radio and high soaring
crickets, I drowsed in an undulate weave
of ripening girls peeled from their swimsuits,
their nipples pealing a red roar.

Every afternoon it rained hard,
big boomers in from Tampa sweeping
through in great wet sheets which left
me the rest of the day feeling somehow
unslaked. At twilight, the remaining grove
on the other side of the fence grew fierce
with frogs and whatever else pulsed out there,
mounds of a sugar silk-saturate and dark.

On a small radio I listened to hard rock bands
in the black-lit eeriness of my room; eyewhites
and lint burned like hot moons while the
thickening night heaved on my windows in
a rich, purring growl. Oh the sharp tooth I
felt in those songs by Mountain and Cream,
trillingly pure, loud as thirst, raw as plunder.

Thirty years later, that first summer in Florida
chirrs loud in my veins. I sit here in this house
with the windows wide to the humid heat of 5 a.m.
Outside in this small town never far from a fast
Florida buck, sprinkler heads and crickets saw over
that old beast who sleeps only in the linear sense.
Some untamed thirst prowls here as ever, ripened
deep within. My hands ache for the heft of those
oranges warm from ghost orchards; to cleave their
nude fire; to squeeze them down hard on a mount
of ridged whirl, filling this glass past the brim with
remembered gold, spilling juice over all.


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