On Stealing Figs
For my Tante Paulette
Time is suspended on the brink of fall and I, a naughty child of five or six, find sweet the fruit that grows beyond the wall. My aunt is passionate about her figs and in her garden forbidden trees sway in the breeze, they whisper their calls, they tease, (I must not) their honeyed globes on display, (I will not) they wave their five-fingered leaves. Flaunting their green swords, nasturtiums clamber, each in its tunic the color of flame, igniting the wall between, no barrier for a sparrow, sparrow might be my name. I fly into boughs that welcome, rock me, I’m one of the songbirds, one with the tree. I’m one of the songbirds, one with the tree, all the flavors in the rainbow will burst on my tongue, appease all hunger and thirst. Shifting light, good rough bark between my knees, the fig’s weight in my hand, sun-warm, convex, (there can be no world beyond this embrace) gently bite, downy skin opens, displays blushing globules round a shadowed vortex, and there one eager drop. But that’s no lark, it’s the woman of wrath, her trilling shriek. She plucks me, shredding my skin on the bark —I should have stayed high, but I was too meek— she slaps me, shakes me till the world goes dark. Is it next day, or the following week? Is it next day, or the following week? Again I hear the sinful call—it’s wrong. The spirit is willing, the flesh is strong, though I was always taught to say it’s weak. At last, for love’s own sake, I want to leave the fruit untouched on other women’s trees, I tend the sweetest in my own garden. Could I wing over the nasturtium wall back into azure hours before the fall, and in that garden undo one error, I would be brave and challenge that terror, woman who never had child or childhood. I know I should not, but this time I would. I know I should not, ah but yes, I would, if there were one mistake that I could fix —I speak as one who’s stolen many figs and left too many things misunderstood— as the fury dragged me from where I perched, she’d put within my reach her chicken neck, I’d grasp it firmly, and on her starved cheek I’d plant one shameless, resounding, fruit-smirched… She might rant, my great-aunt, and she might hiss tes enfants, qu’ils sont terribles, horreur! I never could resist forbidden figs, though my thefts made trouble for my mother, and in the end it all comes down to this: plant one shameless, resounding, fruit-smirched kiss.
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