In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

The Tangerine Tree

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We lived at Quo Vadis then, a dumpy avocado colored complex 

across from the dying strip mall sputtering out, 

stores no one shopped or missed when they closed, belly up or dying out. 

Remember that pizza store with brothers in the name? 

There for 20 years, like an institution, and then closed its doors one day

no warning

though someone knew the owner had cancer.
 

We were in our twenties and striving, 

you selling pots and pans and me in school.

And Barry would be on the couch some days, 

popped out of nowhere watching t.v. while I was in the bathroom.

The apartment door was always open and he wasn’t shy.

Sometimes he would show up at the door and knock.

And there he would stand dressed in snow gear.

“Let’s go skiing.” 

No matter that we both had school and jobs.

And we would go.
 

I was trying out my domestic skills then.

So I grew house plants filling the light of the window,

hung in fives across the ever-open blinds.

Those were the days of open, unlocked doors, drop-in neighbors,

never closed blinds, royal blue apartments and sleeping naked.

We cared so much about the world and so little about everything

but the intimate and local, the near and myopic scope of our lives.
 

But it was just like you–who you are really–to toss those seeds

behind you,

without a thought to the life already existing in that pot, 

the spider plant fledgeling waiting to hang

though still nestled on the window sill 

waiting to flop its trestled wings over the burnt clay lip.

It must have been a luscious, tinny sweet tangerine that held those seeds.

Because now, dozens of years later, 

that tree that grew from strange sprouts 

crowding the spider plant on the sill, a puzzle to me then, 

and with time snuffed out the baby spider buds for soil, space and sustenance, 

room to grow and then outgrow that small pot to a larger one and then 

a larger one yet, moving with us from apartment to house to house 

where it now lives in the backyard, 

bursting with abundance.
 

It took 25 years for that tree, 

grown from thoughtlessly tossed seeds 

by one too lazy to get off the couch and trash them,

to bear fruit.

It simply grew and followed us from home to home, 

life to life, childhood to adulthood, 

and then our children’s childhood to adulthood,

and our puppies and kittens and hamsters and birds and fish and frogs

to their graves, 

some feeding the soil of tangerine tree roots, 

finally strong enough

firm enough to bear the weight of hundreds of sweet orange sun nuggets.
 

You, unwittingly, mindlessly, grew that tree you love so much now, 

picking one tangerine each morning, 

cold from the morning’s chill dew,

sucking its sugary juice and tossing the peel to the soil, 

just like you planted it 31 years before, 

when we were young and the tree was yet to be, 

its fruit long time coming.
 

And now the fruit is plentiful and we are old and love infertile, 

like sterile lovers circling, unwittingly trodding the soil of our graves.

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