Winter’s Tale

By Maxine Kumin

Even from my study at the back
of the house I can hear an orange drop
upstairs, one of the last to grow

on the dwarf tree you bought me
thirty years ago. When it tried
to overtake the window frame

we cruelly lopped side branches and still
it blossomed and bore its bitter progeny
the size and wrinkle of walnuts.

Repotting, we tore the roots apart,
vermiculite clinging like hatchlings
of silverfish to its tendrils. It thrived,

for years you harvested a pint or more.
But as it aged the fruitage thinned
and hoping to replace it, you soaked

handfuls of seeds. Three consented to sprout.
They shot straight up like pole beans,
greedy underlings sucking in

all the light at the front of the house.
Of course they were sterile.
Today, when I hear an orange drop

I don’t let myself think back to the winters
when you’d pick a crop of twenty, thirty
oranges at once, cut each

one open, force the seeds out, add
enough sugar to make my teeth ache,
and boil and boil until the mass

congealed, sheeting off the spoon
in the drear of February while rain
fell on snow, making little pockmarks

like mattress buttons in the pasture
outside the steamy kitchen window,
and life was bleak and sweet and you

made marmalade.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/05/winter-s-tale/307382/