Ray’s Fig Trees by Derek Kannemeyer

Derek Kannemeyer has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2020 Poetry Contest

My father planted this fig tree.
25 years ago, the last time my folks visited.
The flight back got too much for them-—missed connections,
no sleep, lost luggage. And I put in a sapling plum,
with dad’s help, but that one’s died since.
I thought the fig was dying too,
but on the phone, my dad just laughed.
The day that fig tree dies is the day that I die.
We scattered the ash of him five years ago, but his fig tree
is healthier than ever—we had some pines culled,
and it’s bulling into the new light.
I’m 70 myself now, younger than he was then,
but weeding around it today, spraying the poison ivy,
bending, uprooting, there’s wheeze in my breath, there’s wince
in my bones; I’ve begun, just this year, to feel old.
Ray, I was calling him by that visit,
adult to adult. As we had all
begun to: his children; his grandchildren. And all of us
had Ray’s fig-trees: wherever we settled, he planted cuttings.
The original shaded the house where I grew up;
it’s the first one gone, now: the new owners
uprooted his whole orchard. Perhaps,
after we’re gone, his children and his grandchildren,
whoever comes after us will do the same to ours.
He had to smuggle our cutting into America,
in a suitcase that got lost on the trip back.
Today, a new green, thumb-slim limb
bows low and bobbles,
as I finger two spring nubs, and uncover two others,
criss-crowned with leaves—four fat baby syconia.
The best crop we’ve had in years, I’m betting.
Well, Ray, I tell his tree, I guess you’re not dead yet.

Photo of tree tops in sunlight
Untitled by Mike Linksvayer. CC license.

Derek Kannemeyer
Derek Kannemeyer is the author of The Play of Gilgamesh (2019) and of the poetry collection Mutt Spirituals (forthcoming, 2021, San Francisco Bay Press), and the 2018 winner of the inaugural Blue Nib poetry chapbook prize. In his headshot, he is standing by Ray’s fig tree, stripped bare for winter. (The tree, not Derek.) He lives and writes in Richmond.

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