To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian

by Ross Gay

Read by Emma Rye

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up|
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other |the city they
say is a lonely
place until |yes|
the sound of sweeping|
and a woman|
yes with a
broom| beneath
which you are now
too |the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it|
and she
has a hose too|
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator|
the light catches
the veins in her hands|
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can|
help me|
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice| and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth |and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a
constellation| pointing|
do you see it|
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
yellow-jackets sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
in there|
it was hot| his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night|
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs |and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
people|
this is true|
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th|
strangers maybe
never again.

Retrieved from: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/fig-tree-9th-and-christian