The Breakfast Tree
New neighbor’s hanging over my fence, avocado face yammering about his bread and butter, bread and butter, Why don’t my boss understand this how I make my quota? My spring morning quiet, sitting under my orange and lemon trees in my lawn chair, has flown off with the flustered sparrows and towhees.
He’s only had the house a few months, after Pop Bartlett died, 91 years old. No idea where they stole in from. Not Oriental. Not Mexican. Brown skin, black haired, too many kids to count.
The man admires a fat orange on a branch of my tree that’s grown out too near the cinder block wall that divides us.
This whole valley was citrus farmers when I was a kid, I tell him. We sped our Schwinn bikes through dirt rows and around smudge pots, grabbing fruit, old men with rock salt in their shotguns chasing lamely behind. Lemon juice, orange juice, lime, it flowed to us free and fresh, like water from the aqueduct our grandfathers built. This was desert. They made a paradise from barren land. Before it was overrun, bankrupted by freeloaders.
I’m looking him dead in the eye.
There was people here, he says, gawking the near-to-burst fruit. They lived the land before missions come. They knew it. They had, you call, tribes. Indians to your cowboys, no? He laughs a little.
The last standing navel orange tree in the valley sits on my property. A plump, sweet, juice-spraying orange hangs in his sight, a breakfast promised by old California. He’ll pluck it as soon as I turn away. I could just snap it from the tree, white blossoms filling the air, and I could offer it, a prize for my late wife’s sake. She always took pity on these creatures.
But I do not. Will not. This is not humanity, it’s California. And I am not his bread and butter.
Michael Dwayne Smith proudly owns and operates one of the English-speaking world’s most unusual names. Not counting a year in Alaska, he’s lived in or near the Inland Empire his entire life. No one knows why. He’s a long-ago graduate of U.C. Riverside’s undergrad creative writing program, where he studied with Stephen Minot, Maurya Simon, Susan Straight, and was honored to serve as editor-in-chief of UCR’s literary journal, Mosaic. Michael’s poetry and fiction materialize at Monkeybicycle, BLIP (formerly Mississippi Review), Pirene’s Fountain, Right Hand Pointing, Northville Review, Red Fez, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Orion headless, Phantom Kangaroo, Four and Twenty, and other mysterious locations. He lives in the high desert with his wife, son, and rescued animals—all of whom talk in their sleep. He can be conjured using the spells michael dot blackbear at gmail dot com, michaeldwaynesmith.tumblr.com, or michaelthebear on Twitter.