Grandpa’s Garden

by James B. Nicola

Hidden by leaves hugging the ground far beneath even my low, preschooler’s knees, bold red fruit—unknown, unseen, untasted—beckoned without a word ’til my grandfather brought us over to stoop and sweep aside the beaded leaves with the backs of our hands to sight and seize, this time,

Like the tomatoes (and cherry tomatoes which my brothers had already yielded to me, since I, with my freckles and beacon of hair, was also the smallest red globule around) they moistened our throats and slobbered our chins suddenly, lusciously, scrumptiously, with a heavenly sweetness unlike earthy tomatoes, for they were, after all, 

Best picked and savored after a rainy spell, Grandpa, with his accent, taught us.

* * *

The summer years later I moved to The City, I would teach myself Italian and change my name to his.

The summer still later I moved midtown I’d grow tomato plants on my skyscraper terrace but with little success—four plum pieces from eight potted plants. Too much wind and not enough bright light.

Since that persnickety season, I’ve tried to grow other bright fruits (not red, but to be read) from fertilized dirt, tears, and light for others to brush through the leaves, stoop, and sample. A singular season of light and calm are required for their gestation; they too seem best ingested after a rain.

Add to these the lenient discipline of the intrepid immigrant gardener; vain humility; fear of lonely oblivion; plus the courage—the spite—to keep growing and growing and growing. The constant weeding and repetitive polishing are the hope, cultivated into action, that these berries and baubles shine amply so as to attract

someone like you with a rare and bold spirit to finger through the leaves, discover, and pick such base and seeded fruit as this.

* * *

After the tomatoes and strawberries, Grandpa gave us a tour of the rest of the plot of his vast back yard, much of which rose in well-kept rows like characters in a printer’s typesetting block, but some of which sprawled like scraggly free-form verse as diverse as the Old and New Worlds:

tough kale, sharp chicory, inscrutable okra, curt semi-sour grapes, communal Brussels sprouts (each ball or bulb stacked neatly on a neighbor), and garlic, potent as a white-haired sorcerer; between them, tart raspberries (prickly yet delightful)—all now parts of me.

* * *

My brother and I still savor the summer
the rain decided to stop
and our grandfather
picked up from the kitchen table
a hexagonal, glass saltshaker
small enough to match a preschooler’s palm,
and hooked his index finger as if to say
in the international language of love and silence

Follow me

and we followed him
to see what was so earth-shattering

and the moment he placed
in each of our palms
our own individual

photo credit: Avin CP, Unsplash

*Excerpts or alternate versions of this work have appeared in Museum of Americana, Last Stanza, and Still Point Arts Quarterly.