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The New Orange

In the dead of August,

A few leaves yellow-scuttled yards

Unready for rakes, autumn’s casual brush by—

A 68-degree flirt with sweater weather after a fine rain.

In a deeper South, the Amazon burned;

The slideshow played, a frame or two,

On a small screen, swiped by android thumbs

Tracking the finer points of the Dow

Jagging fire-engine red.

In a pre-charred dawn,

Rainforest palms fanned their last

Against dusky pumpkin skies,

“Smelling of barbecue,”

Phrase-fumbled journalists—

Which kind?

I dumb-wondered,

The whole hog

Pit-roasted over hickory

And thin-drizzled with tangy vinegar?

Or mustard and paprika-heated dry rub

Powdered with garlic, brown sugar, and allspice?

Or smoked chicken sweating peppery vinegar-laced mayonnaise?

Soon yellow-brown will flatten lawns,

I thought,

As bone-white ceramic tile chilled my feet,

And I groped for a supermarket orange

Shrinking in the refrigerator bin.

It felt tired in my hand.

Memory peeled back

To frosty mornings when I rode with my father

To the farmers market in Birmingham’s West End.

Fires burned in rusting drums

And we huddled in the dark,

Waiting for trucks hauling citrus

From distant groves,

Where winter went green year-round.

Blast furnaces cast a tangerine glow

Until dawn streaked,

And the sun flashed on big rigs

Bearing Florida nectar—

Exotics to eat out of hand,

With names to dream on:

Valencia, Indian River, Satsuma, and Seville

Took the choke out of those sulfur days,

The never-letup of iron-smelting.

Ambrosial. I tasted the word this morning—

While the Amazon rainforest died another day.

6 Comments

  1. Eric Jay Sonnenschein

    I love these two poems. The New Orange: “Rainforest palms fanned their last/Against dusky pumpkin skies” is a fine broken line. There is a real conflict or chasm between the cold modernity of the small screen and the palms waving against the deep orange sky, the smell of barbecue.

    There is a famous Louis Armstrong performance of “Struttin’ at the Barbecue” that is close in melody to the Brazilian song “Manha de Carneval” by Luis Bonfa. It must be the creole influence, the African, Spanish and French along the Gulf Coast. You surely capture that.

    In “Memory Peeled Back” (superb title) the evocation of that cold, early morning in Birmingham with your dad waiting for the tropical fruit in a produce market, with the singe and smell of industry in your nostrils is evocative and intimate. I get such a powerful sense of your father, too, and how you felt about him. This poem is replete with family warmth and childlike excitement. How the senses are embossed in our memories.

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Eric, thanks so much for taking time to comment. I appreciate your friendship over the years–and certainly your beautifully written posts on LinkedIn. They are thoughtful and incisive–setting an example of high quality every time. My best to you and yours–ch

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