My father owned coffee plantations in Madagascar.
He had polio and
when I came home from school and
knocked on the door of our white house
I heard his metal brace scrape the floor
before I saw his face
and the marks he made on the Italian tile.
Haitia was my nanny, soil-black,
smelling of sweet almost lambent oil,
smelling of grapefruits, lemons, and limes.
My mother was an obstetrician,
smelling of dust,
an erect woman with alabaster skin
and a black bag
filled with silver instruments.
When I was born
my father planted a grapefruit tree.
For six years it bore no fruit.
On my sixth birthday, a single grapefruit appeared.
Don't pick it, my father warned.
It was then, outside,
between aggressive sunbursts,
my girlfriends urged me on.
Jump and get it! they shouted
Jump and get it!
Restless we were for this epiphany.
That evening, my father
burned me on the arm with a soldering iron.
Haitia had to leave the room.
I could hear her wailing through blunt walls.
My father frightened her
even though she was much bigger than he.
My mother, at the time,
was somewhere doing a Caesarian or
she would have stopped him I think.
Still, thirty-five years later to the day
I never pick flowers or fruit from trees.
I've learned my lesson, I'm respectful,
I walk without scarring a clean surface
something my father could never do.