Ana Garza G’z — “The Tree of Knowledge”

“Nor did I desire to enjoy what I pilfered,
But the theft and sin itself.”
St. Augustine – The Confessions

In my backyard, there was a nectarine tree so heavy with fruit it bent low to help us pick the tart round globes that aren’t quite peaches. In my neighbor’s yard, there was an apple tree as laden, but forbidden by a fence and the neighbors’ dad. We went to mass, so we knew what was inevitable when there’s a garden and two trees.

We bided our time, and we let the months and the seasons roll like cloud banks from winter—through frost, rain, and fog—to the surprising heat of mid spring.

When our nectarines grew apricot sized and torpedo shaped, and our tree stood trim and straight in our yard, when their apples were large and round and yellow-green, and their tree hunched lush and low in the middle of theirs, we collected all the windfalls we could—the aborted nectarines, the end-of-season lemons, the withered bodies of winter pomegranates— and we knelt quietly behind an old couch, where I imagined God would want us to pray in secret, our knees on the ground, our hands folded together, our heads bowed low away from our neighbors’ eyes, unlike the hypocrite of the temple. My mother must have glowed at the vision of her angels framed by a window sash.

Then when one of us saw them, all five, there in their yard and under their apple tree—no parents—only us and them, we began:

“You red-neck, trailer-trash Okies,” we flung with a barrage of hard stone fruit.

Three ran for the tree. Two shoved trash cans and a broken baby carriage into barricades and returned: “You brown, Mexican, don’t-speak-no-English wetbacks.” The apple pickers dropped and ran for cover.

We throwers popped up and swung. “You whities who can’t even speak good English,” followed by a volley of large rotten lemons.

More running, more apple picking: “You ethnics who can’t count if you don’t have no beans.”

And so it went: the words, the scrabbling for ammo, the gathering and sorting of good fruit for eating and bad fruit for hurling back, the strategizing—ludicrous since even I could play, the blind one without aim.

We battled on until our mouths were empty of things to say; until the grass was stony in smashed apples, exploded lemons, flattened pomegranates; until everyone rubbed the bruises marking the paths of the missile fruit that whooshed over the fence in both directions; until we knew their mother wouldn’t bake very many pies and our mother wouldn’t have extra fruit to pack in bags for the neighborhood; until the seasons knotted into early summer and the neighbors’ gazes lifted to our side of the fence, the single garden, and the nectarine tree sweet and stooped, its leaves thick, its fruit blushing and ready as fists.

Ana Garza G’z has an M. F. A. from California State University, Fresno, where she teaches part-time. Sixty-six of her poems and two of her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and journals, most recently in The New Verse News. She also works as an interpreter and translator.