(After ‘Persimmons’, Li-Young Lee)
Born with a cleft palate, I lisp & stutter. Every night, my mother lights a candle. On a tall stool, I sit in front of her as if a student. Repeat this sound, darling. She brings her lips together. P. p. p. The flame moves as if blown. This flickering light a beacon, pft, pft sounds the air. Smoke rises from the burnt wick. She lights it again. Now, this time, bring your lips together. I purse them & go, p, p, p. She smiles. Warmth rises through me. She opens a picture book. Now say this! An edible brown-green fruit is vivid. I say, p, p, pear as if my life depends upon it.
1969: high school, first form. An orchard of pear trees stares out from the textbook. ‘Pear Industry’ is written on the blackboard. The Social Studies teacher points to me. Read the next passage, please. A candle glow flares. I breathe in & recede into my whorl-shell protection. In the p ,pear ind industry.. . Across the aisle, a boy nudges his mate. Giggles surround me. Humiliation fires. Quiet, says the teacher. At recess, a pear-in-hand, class mates crowd & jostle me. Sp, sp, speak, they chant. I devour the pear.
19th June 1992. Ward 17 South*. A tumour, the colour of a sunrise, mountains my tongue’s rear. I eat stewed pears for breakfast. Doctor M, the treating specialist swings by my bed with a medical team. We’ve found evidence of a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I blink, glance at the soft fruit & recollect the pear tree orchard. His words translate the conspiracy of skin. You’ll be okay for two or three years. His statements bulge my body with fertile questions. Why are the cells rebellious? The lymphoma will come back in shorter and shorter time spans. Why is the tumour ceasing my speech? Mum’s P, p, pear flashes before me. It’ll get you in the end.
Twenty-five years later, on holidays in the Blue Mountains’s* cool air, I walk into a cedar-red shed. In boxes, pears sit in rows. Outside, green light falls through branches’ latticework. In the granular light, half-recollections of an art gallery visit particle-dusts the interior. At one, a still life, Ranunculus and Pears* was exhibited. Three pears in a ceramic bowl were plump with health.
Some memories never leave a person. There were the times before the cancer, a plump 80 kilograms & the times after, an epidemic-thin 59.6. Yet the hunger for health never left me, the hunger being a thing unto itself
*’Ward 17 South’ was the ward for patients living with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst in the inner eastern suburbs of Sydney.
*The ’Blue Mountains’, a tourist mecca are west of Sydney.
*Ranunculus and Pears is a still life painted by twentieth-century Australian artist, Margaret Olley.
Peter Mitchell (He/Him/His), shortlisted for the 2020 AIDS Memorial Green Park (Sydney) Competition (Collaborator: Architect Matteo Salval) & the 2020 Robyn Mathison Poetry Prize, lives on Widjabul/Wia-bul Country(Bundjalung Nation). writing poetry, memoir, short fiction & literary criticism. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Wild Roof Journal (USA), Mini-Mega Pack (USA), Verity La, Eureka Street, The Blue Nib (Ireland), Mantissa Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review (USA) & Writing Water: Rain River Reef (Red Room Poetry, 2020), among other journals & anthologies. His second poetry chapbook, Conspiracy of Skin (Ginninderra Press, 2018) was awarded a Highly Commended in the 2019 Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry. His first poetry chapbook is The Scarlet Moment (Picaro Press, 2009) while his first full-length poetry collection, Wild Risk & third poetry chapbook, Deep Black Ice, await publication. Find him at https://www.peter-mitchell.com.au & on Insta @petermitchell546.
Art: Displacement by J. Pouwels who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sonoma State University and went to Miami of Ohio earning a Master’s degree in Fine Art Painting and Drawing. Originally from New Zealand, now lives in Chico California where he maintain and active studio.