Robbie Nester


in memory of my father, Mish Kellman

Once, the fields and lots of this place
shone with star-bright blossoms,
the sweet air heavy with twilight
heralding the trees’ full load.
Drawn out to the silent
grove, dizzy with perfume,
I’d gaze up into the dark green depths
where secrets swelled. I’d peek
into the petticoats of leaves and reach
a hand to palm the nascent fruit,
mindful of proprietary farmers and their dogs.

In a month, as in a nebula light years away,
galaxies are born in bursts of brightness
no one can see, the perfect planetary globes
of lemons, grapefruits, and oranges would light
our moonless evenings, smooth-skinned and bright—
the Meyer lemon, rounder than the ordinary kind;
squat mandarin; pink grapefruit
blushing in the half light of the leaves
among the twisting rows of guardian eucalyptus.

In a place that’s galaxies apart, with only
one small square of rock-hard dirt,
my father made things grow
beneath a narrow
sky fretted with wires,
wondering all the while
at what he managed to bring forth.

Once transplanted here
where the wide skies stretch
for acres, sown with clouds,
he planted everything: the seeds
of pomegranate, star fruit, hand of Buddha,
red clay beneath his nails, along
the half-moon cuticles. Every week,
he wandered narrow aisles
of nursery and farmer’s market,
holding up each perfect berry,
burying his face in golden
bells of angel’s trumpet, nurturing
each sign of life. But though I tried,
I couldn’t do the same.

Since then, the air has lost its savor.
On nights like these, only
knot-hard stars will ripen
where the trees once stood.
No wonder that I haunt the farmer’s
markets Friday afternoons, taking in
the glistening peppers, pendulous tomatoes
like grandees, pebbled avocados,
that even I, a stranger to the soil,
now long to plant a seed.