Onyx Publications
  • Still, The Noble Fig Tree, 
    and Other Poems

    Written By: Kate Banks

    © 2021 by Kate Banks

Still

 

I wake to find the world dangerously still,

flattened against a cottony sky.

Lavender spears slouched against the stone wall,

Japanese lanterns plumped up, holding their breath,

a gecko neatly pressed into a crease of the windowsill,

all unmoved by my stares.

I swear the world has come to a halt.

 

The wind chimes hang numbly from the crooked arm of an olive tree,

a sure sign of gravity,

and the gravity of the moment.

 

I turn my ear to catch the scolding chant of the brown thrasher,

tsk, tsk, tsk,

the brisk shrug of the gull’s wings before it takes flight.

But my senses alight on the dull throb of emptiness,

and I place my hand on a chapped bough of the orange tree,

searching for a pulse.

 

I dare not take the rake and score the earth

or attempt to trim the frayed hem of the thyme.

 

So I go about my day,

grinding coffee beans,

pressing them into the sieve of the moka.

I split two rumpled cardamon pods

and empty their seeds into my cup of brew.

And I go to the window.

I sip my coffee and as it slips down the back of my throat

the stillness is ripped open by a black dart.

A crow touches down planting its nubby claws into a drugget of tousled grass.

 

I spy a fiddlehead pushing through the soil

and the world rejoices.

The fronds of the palm tree billow upwards.

The shiver of the wind chimes becomes a tinkle.

The lavender straightens its spine.

And I put down my coffee cup

and accept the invitation to pick up my rake.

The Noble Fig Tree

 

There is no denying the fig tree.

When I lean into the curve of its arched spine

and it turns a large eared leaf towards me

I wonder if you can love a tree as much or more than a person.

 

I insist on being present when the fig tree gives birth to its first fruits,

silk-skinned teardrops

that blossom again and again

into a rich violet hue.

I catch my breath when they tumble to the ground

in the noble art of letting go.

 

I didn’t taste a fig until I was a grown woman,

coming as I did from the land of snow crusted orchards,

crisp apples, and mealy pears.

I will never forget my first bite,

moist and seedy,

a forbidden fruit if there ever was one.

It spoke to me of faraway places, lips parted, talking in tongues.

 

As Fall draws to a close,

battening down its hatches,

I gather the last of the figs in the bosom of my apron.

I station myself at the stove

and I stir their pulp into a sugary paste.

From the corner of my eye, I watch the last of the fig leaves writhe and twitch

in a motion I know is a prelude to yet another death,

a little death,

if there is such a thing.

 

I can the compote and set it on the pantry shelf.

And I remind myself that it won’t be long before the wood sorrel sprouts

on the hill and the fig tree’s sparse winter skeleton shudders,

stretching its spindly fingers upward,

rising on its haunches to new life.

 

I must remember to tell my children

to make my final bed under the noble fig tree

where I know its gentle breath will

ease me into my own little death.

The Fallow Fields

 

Doesn’t the moodiness of late summer

remind you of a tired child,

all played out

but wanting one more go?

 

I would give in if I could.

A few more days of mirth and merrymaking,

granting the daisies a second bloom,

borrowing from the moon to give to the sun.

What difference would it make?

But it’s not up to me.

 

So I will accept the meddling shadows,

dimming the light,

the parched grass

that’s lost its springy step.

Tuckered out, it lays down for a long nap.

 

Soon the fields will lie fallow

and I will walk them,

back and forth,

keeping step with their weakening heartbeat,

priming my patience, honing my trust

for the long wait. 

 

All winter I will tend the fields,

meticulously minding the maze,

cultivating emptiness,

storing it in my bowls.

 

Farewell to my summer friends,

the crickets, and ants, the ladybugs, the birds.

Each crisp night signals another departure.

Good-byes are blistering.

 

The leaves flinch before turning their backs to me.

But I am not offended.

 

I eye the burnished bulbs

buried in a vase.

And a scrap of my spirit hunkers down with them. 

 

I smile to think of the flurry when Winter turns over

and finds Spring in its bed.

There’s bound to be a few days of seduction,

when energy rises and passions rule.

But Winter will retreat.

 

The currents of Spring will find their way back to me,

and there will be a quickening in my fallow fields.

and I will fill my bowls of nothing.

Spring Cleaning

 

I skim the winter scraps from the supple surface of the puddle pond,

parched casements and the ribbed skeletons of tree pods,

edge the ragged garden beds.

prune the fruit trees, all skin and bones. 

I hose down the shed, reluctantly wiping the cat’s paw prints

from the panes of freckled glass.

 

Then I head to the house, flinging open the windows,

airing the bedding,

taking special care with the pillows

where the heads of my dear ones have lain,

doing my best to extract the essence of love

from the feathers and fuzzballs.

Yesterday seems ages ago.

 

I empty the drawers, anointing them with lavender and rosewood oil,

rearranging their contents,

instating a new world order.

The mateless socks say it all.

I pause to picture them wandering the earth looking for the perfect partner.

The perfect partner—what an idea!

 

I floss the chair slats,

coax the dust bunnies from the corners

and pen them in my dustpan.

Among the dregs are a die, a button, and a coin.

I think I’ll string them on a charm bracelet.

 

The raging voice of reason cautions me.

Nonetheless, I take a perilous turn inwards

to tend to my temple.

I tiptoe through the debris and remnants of a life not fully lived,

keeping bits I should have thrown,

tossing those I should have kept.

But who’s to know when there’s no peephole to the future?

No wonder one clings to the stains on the tablecloth or the tear in a sheet.

It takes courage to walk away in search of the missing socks.

 

A butterfly alights on the windowpane,

Its patchy wings all in a frenzy.

I stare at it rudely

for far too long.

But when it finally takes flight

I am able to move on.

Stone Soup

 

Imagine

streets lined with orange trees.

The first time I saw them I thought I was tripping.

White buds bursting into a star shower,

flurrying like snow.

 

It took me back to the time I rolled a joint in the woods,

at the crack of dawn, in a pickup truck.

My own words crinkled in my ears.

And the pine forest became a citrus grove,

dripping with fruit.

I promised myself never to smoke pot

or eat an orange again.

 

But wouldn’t you know it.

I bought a house in the south of France

with an orange tree right off the kitchen.

It was magnificent, a grand master of trees,

one hundred years old.

 

I found myself

clinging to its roots,

beguiled by its beauty,

aching to belong.

 

When I moved in, I blessed my home,

misting tulsi,

tossing salt in every corner,

chimes and buddha bowls in every room.

And I scribbled a blessing on parchment paper

and planted it beneath the orange tree.

 

I threw myself into gardening,

digging deep into the earth,

soiling my half moons,

each time depositing a grain of me next to a seed or sapling,

taking a stone in return and placing it on a shelf.

 

Many moons later,

when dusk was busy sweeping away the crumbs of day,

I headed to the garden to reap my rewards,

white bodiced, peach faced turnips,

carrots alongside their ghostly neighbors—parsnips,

beet greens and chives.

 

I chopped them and tossed them into a boiling pot of broth. 

Then I took a stone from the shelf

and dropped it into the stock,

hoping that it would nourish my bones,

and I, too, would take root in this foreign soil.