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Monday, December 19, 2016

Street Fruit

Just Out of Reach by Jim Daly 
This piece appeared in The Drowning Gull special issue on "Encounters with Nature" here:

Street Fruit

Instead of growing fatter, the mulberries on the Dodds Street tree are growing longer, like blistered black pinkies, dangling. The tree has an unblocked southern exposure. I stood in the street and went over it like a cedar waxwing. Waxwings are fruit-eating birds; sitting on a power line, they will pass a berry from mouth to mouth, so all can share. This is a community-building behavior. With avian attentiveness I carefully selected the longest, blackest fruit, which, just jostled, dropped into my hands, my mouth, onto my sneakers, and, splattering purple onto the white cotton, into my breast pocket.

A young woman in a plain beige skirt and white blouse worked in the yard; when she bent over I could see her underpants and down the front of her shirt, though I sought no such access. Her front door was open and Henry Purcell's "Fairy Queen," rang from the house. Maybe she's a music student at Indiana University, Bloomington. At first she and I did not speak, or even acknowledge each other's presence. I finally remarked, "You have the best mulberries in town."

"Well, thank you," she said. "Would you like a container?"

I didn't know how to say no. I didn't know how to communicate how I feel. "Eating fruit for free on the street," I'd have to say, "reminds me of being a kid." I'd cruise the shimmering hot asphalt streets of Wanaque, NJ, on my bicycle, dressed as I was now, in cut-off jeans and shirt tail hanging, shoeless. scouting out ripe choke cherries and gobbling them down by the handfuls, knowing full well that eyelash-sized worms wriggled their way through every one, and that I crushed them under my molars along with pulsing magma-red wild cherry flesh, not caring that I was eating bugs, feeling that this was the closest I'd come to being what I wanted to be: a peasant child who had never immigrated to America, a wild animal, invisible to humans and unable to speak their language, a hunter-gatherer eons before civilization had set in, a welfare brat crafty and slick enough to survive on what I could find each day, my skills rescuing my unschooled immigrant mother from knuckle-gnawing factory labor thus defying the last-name-ends-in-a-consonant, native-born, 1960s American welfare state for sustenance.

"No," I said. "The mulberry skins are too fragile. They get mooshed if you try to collect them."

"Well, come get them anytime," she said. "I tried them a couple years ago, and I don't like them."

We went about our respective activities: garden work and gathering, until I took off after I ate so many mulberries I began to get queasy, that summer-queasy when winter has been long and pinched and summer fruit are free. 

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