Poetry

Cherry Picking Season

Sally Wen Mao

My grandmother picks cherries
  like scabs. Sweetheart cherries,
            Rainier cherries,
      Coral, Lapin, Bing—
Late May: harvest time in Santa Cruz
      a red bounty in her palms. She gives
            us her offerings.
      As we split and pit them,
all that’s left is perfect
      red flesh.
I wish we could harvest time.
      Days ago, the cardiologist broke:
      my grandmother harbors
            an abnormal growth
in her heart valves. The walls of her
      ventricles too hard,
each artery bark-like. Any time
            now, it will burst.
      My grandmother a tree
feeding all her children.
      What can we do? She’s past eighty.
      After her hospital visit,
            she is dazed for days,
nursing a throb in her chest.
            So this is the end,
I hear her thinking. To live through famine,
      to give birth to three children
through these milkless, meatless years.
      Over breakfast she tells me
            how in 1959–1962
      she only ate fruit once.
A white cherry in her palm
            could pierce her heart,
      its taste lasting
in her mouth for months.
      Who are we
            without her? I chew
through every pit, spit them
            back into the bowl.

Sally Wen Mao is the author of two books, Oculus, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Mad Honey Symposium. She is the recipient of an NEA fellowship and Pushcart Prize.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021

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