Pulled over off the highway on a dirt road
cutting into miles of orange groves, we counted
one, two, three, before ducking beneath
a loosened fence line, sure we hadn't been seen.
Inside the silent orchard, we searched
for perfect fruit, sun-ripened globes
glinting in the midday heat, branches bent low
beneath the weight of what we intended to steal—
or borrow—we laughed—certain this was a lesson
we could not pass up. Sitting cross-legged
in blue shade, we peeled the skins and let them drop
at our sides. It was then you spoke of him
more freely than you had before. Distance,
you said, had begun to blur facial features,
the dip and rise of his voice on the phone,
those phrasings you loved, his hands in gesture.
Four thousand miles west, on a continent
swung out against a date line, an ocean—
the cherry blossoms bloomed as if in unison,
as if to frame the Arlington National,
those bleach-white graves lined evenly
along the green he passed each day. His thoughts
were elsewhere, typing letters late
at night, telling of his job, the new apartment,
that place he liked to eat, asking
about your life there, what you saw,
who you met in that foreign land where
the orchards spread out for acres,
ours dimmed finally in the waning light
of evening. And walking back to the car,
smiling, tired—we were caught.
After a few questions, the groundskeeper laughed.
When we offered to pay, he waved his hand—
his pardon that abrupt—and then began
to tell in broken English how each tree
is planted alone, apart from the others,
to give it room to grow, he motioned outward,
a breaststroke in midair, to give it space.
But—he leaned in, and with fingers intertwined,
explained that the roots connect
anyway, that the trees are made sturdier
because of this. That, even from a distance,
each grows around another, a strength
you could not see, but understood immediately.
The Southeast Review
Volume 30, Number 1