Mudlark Poster No. 131 (2016)

The History of the Plum
Poems by Marcela Sulak

The History of the Pea

(the Princess and)
A pea-sized shadow cast by his doubt
gathered the corners of my world and shook 
him out, like the crumbs of summer picnics,
like the grains an oyster swallowed. There’s a knot
inside my chest. There’s a dent the shape
of a pellet at my back, the kind that’s scattered
through a field of peas to kill the partridge
and the crow. Luckily they placed a pea
beneath my mattress also, and at dawn
the prince will gloat, my purity is proven
in my pain. But if I could, I’d be so dull from use
he wouldn’t even register as loss.
The crown descends upon me like a vise;
his fingers curve, my life is circumscribed.

(the secretary of the United States Chamber of Commerce; the Sicilians, and)
There is nothing so innocent and so confiding
in its expression as the small green face
of the freshly shelled pea. Asparagus is
pushy and bossy, lettuce is blowsy
and loud. Radishes are playful and gay,
but the little green pea is so helpless and friendly
that it makes really sensitive stomachs suffer
to see the way he is treated on average at home.
Just fling him to water and leave him to boil
—and that’s that, said William Wallace Irwin,
secretary of the United States Chamber of Commerce.
On March 31, 1282, Sicilians
rebelling against the French murdered anyone
who couldn’t say chickpea—cece—in Italian.

The History of the Banana

The banana plant is... not a tree,
but a giant herb, like lilies, orchids 
and palms. The trunk is made of sheaths
of overlapping leaves. The name derives
from the Arabic for finger; bundles
are called hands. The rhizome gives
a shoot; at nine months the inflorescence
from the foliated circlet is as large
as seven meters. Three days after that,
a bud hangs on the plant. On the fifth 
the bud turns red and starts to pout. 
On the seventh day the leaves which covered it
are falling down and two days later you can see
the first banana hands.

			                    What a sight
the whole thing is:  The violent head thrusts
like a Dorothy Iannone phallus: blended male-female; 
sometimes it’s called a heart. No wonder 
horticulturists suspect it was the first 
fruit in the world. I love the flower’s 
progeny, the creamy trinity that’s stitched 
with dark brown sand-sized seeds. It draws
a teenage couple’s (my parents’) thoughts to marriage 
across banana splits in sun-swept cafes.
When its green love is shipped across the colder
continents, we find (I’m told) Russian children
queued in snow-blown markets through the dawn
to take their wonderful bananas home.

The History of Poppy Seeds in Moravia

By now I have forgotten the one name
I couldn’t name you. Pleasure, pleasure, said
your voice, and turning sheets of white, moon-threads
in somnolent poppy fields, I walked the same
long stretch of earth I had before, I bit
the same red mouth, and asked the same
long question, rolling quiet sleeves. The name
the youngling body couldn’t bend to fit.
Because you were the wiser, on your hipbone,
bright white skin, I left my slipping marks, slate blue.
That’s all I learned of memory. We knew
this year they’d say the poppy field is gone,
that onions bloom and chamomile; the sky
is green above you, my sleepy, gorgeous lie.

The History of the Plum

The branches of the purple plum sway
against the wind. How can I not think
of him? But home is far, is far away.
And I’m not anywhere. In memory
the orchards cast their silver over rounded hills,
and Alexander’s twiggy groves shed
their rosy little suns. Along the window sills
the shadows of luxuriant plums bed
them tenderly. Tell me now, where is
that wind and where the distance it traverses,
the cliffs, the shards of rain, the fist,
the knuckles whitening on limbs along the roadside?
I’m so hungry that the air will peel
itself like fruit as I pass by.

The History of Corn in Texas

Can’t you see how this is love? The nitrates,
phosphates, ardently precise and drilled
into the spreading furrows. Everything lies still
—maybe there’s a god involved—green tongues awake.
And on the summer morning porch a patient kind 
of courtesy, a wrinkled face beneath a hat
inquiring, tea or coffee?—asking how you slept,
then slipping through the sticky stalks that shake out wind.
I think about how trustingly we fall through vacuumed
space from which the earth emerges like a seed,
and though we cannot hear the sun, that old
song with a well-known air whose hum
heats up the roads, the skin, those avenues of greed
and generosity, we taste its gold.

The History of the Pumpkin from Mexico to Wales

Little did the people guess, those evenings
weaving pumpkin mats—above, the fresh
sky big with unborn gods—that seven
thousand years later this fruit would clutch
the coals the devil gave to Stingy Jack,
who, failing to achieve heaven or hell,
burned through turnips, beets, potatoes, back
and forth across the Anglo world. It’s just as well
they didn’t know, since people get the gods
they merit. Cinderella, waltzing in
her starry shoes among the rich hodgepodge
of mice and ladies, far better filled her own pumpkin
than Stingy Jack did. But maybe they knew.

The History of Squash

She’s the Cordelia of the three
Native American sisters—squash, corn
and beans. The “bland one” Europeans scorned
was known for her powers of fertility
at home by any family in the South with fields.
How she was called the darling of
the gods, how she was there in the first caves,
her scattered stems and skins and seeds,
like detritus of love, or simply, of a day. A gown
for every season: In winter she wore brown
and orange, in summer she wore yellow, green.
Last century, stripped bare and sheathed in cream,
a French guy called her “Spain’s revenge”
and threw her in the garbage bin.

The History of Okra

Long green velvet stars with milk-white pearls 
for seeds, it thickens soups and stews
with its sheer and sticky silk. 
It came to us from Africa with news
our language has forgotten. Fried in cornmeal,
pearls recede, a housedress, then, and beads
of sweat, and—why not?—a tall iced tea.
They called it nkruma and sowed the fields
their masters owned. They visited the parent
plants in death and flying dreams
just off the shores of temperate seas
across the ocean cemetery.
Gather, bind us, gather us, against
the produce stores of history, their sold-out countries.

and I am about to be conceived

My future father is in the post office
turning the combination lock
to his narrow silver box.  
He’s dusty from the rice harvest.

It’s 1967. His purple thumbnail
will fall off next week. There’s a postcard of a beach
from his sister, and a card from the local branch
of the Selective Services. He takes the mail

to his yellow haired wife. He is twenty,
she, eighteen. His dinner is ready,
the floor gleams—you can see her three-month-old
wedding ring in it, reaching for the envelope.

By the time I’m born, he’ll be the only one of five
drafted that day who is still alive. 

The History of the Olive

Before the tongue there were the words, hear
oh Israel!  Words that dreamed my absent ear,
as the garden fruit dreamed my missing mouth, since Solomon
planted, two thousand years ago, the tree on
this mountain, now hardly a mount, the press of feet
above harvests of bones, below harvests of fruit.  
It’s waiting for me, fertile still, its fruits, crushed
between two stones, spill into jars for 
my use, frying things, the lighting of  lamps, 
or shallow pools for challah lifted to the Sabbath’s ample 
lips. My daughter asks why was it a miracle,
eight nights of oil—fighting men don’t till the soil
but Greek athletes poured and rubbed until they shone.
Come home, those branches scratch, no, wave, come home.

Marcela Sulak is the author of Decency (Black Lawrence Press, 2015) and Immigrant (Black Lawrence Press, 2010), as well as a chapbook, Of All the Things that Don’t Exist, I Love You Best (Finishing Line Press, 2008). She has co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres (Rose Metal Press, 2015) and has translated four collections of poetry from Czech, Hebrew, and French. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

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