September 1, 2021

Frank Beltrano

SEGMENTS OF MEMORY

If I googled hard and long
I could probably find the poem
Tim from Rattle liked so much
about the smell of a peeled orange
filling a whole room
filling one’s senses

but maybe it’s enough
that a few words like zest and pith
from that half-forgotten poem
fill my mind
with the smell of oranges
bringing back cool memories
of my long-dead dad

like a man in a dream
alone he sits on a chair
in a room in heaven
peeling oranges
with a knife so sharp
it sings in a soprano key
when he drags it across
the honing steel.

His are fat fingers
and thick palms
dry and calloused 
gentle and strong.

Gracefully, he liberates a spiral of orange peel
paring the peel from the pith.
It is a long spiral of the colour orange
extending to the floor.
It eventually falls to the floor
and he looks up to say,
“That is how it is done, my son.
Would you like a segment, now?”

But beyond this generosity
I also remember he humbled me
buying oranges at the Dominion store.
I was about 10, undoubtedly cute
and the cashier, a woman about his age
said something to me 
interrupted my reverie 
of Dad and me shopping for oranges
and I said, “What?”
and he said, “Don’t be rude. Say
I beg your pardon.”

For years I never knew just what
that was all about 
the only time he ever
played etiquette cop
and it hurt.
I have grown to believe
he only meant to flirt
with the cashier who smiled
rang in our oranges
said goodbye as we left.

Recently I saw myself
as never having learned
the lesson. I still say, “What?”
even to the person I love the most
in all the world, my wife.
She says, “Blah, blah, blah, blah”
and I say, “What?”
And she has grown to be cross about it.
“You don’t listen to me,” she says
and she is right.

She’s like an opera
and I love the playfulness
of the orchestra, the motion
of the conductor’s baton
the sound of the soprano
so much so, it doesn’t matter
that it is in German or Italian
and I yell “What?”
when it is all over
instead of “Bravo”
and she throws me out of the theatre.

Maybe Dad was teaching me
if you want to impress someone
you say, “I beg your pardon.”
I’ll try that. Dad taught me
by example not to flirt too often,
to love your partner, and gladly
peel her oranges so she can make 
juice from them, pith and all
as was Mother’s way. He offered her
a segment which she called a speagle 
which is, in fact, a dog 
a hybrid mix of Beagle
and English Toy Spaniel 
which was her mistake
that he never corrected
not even prefaced with
“I beg your pardon.”  

And I have googled long and hard
trying every spelling of speagle and
Speigel and speegle that I can imagine
only to find mutt dogs 
German magazines
but nothing about oranges
pith nor peel
not even candied zest
which is something
Mother kept in her cupboards
for the baking of fruitcakes
soaked in brandy. 
I beg your pardon, Mother.
Call orange segments 
what you want. I remember
your cakes, the taste of brandy
and candied zest in my mouth.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021

__________

Frank Beltrano: “I write poetry because it makes me happy to imagine someone else imagining my voice as they read these words. Poetry is a way to bridge the gap between like-minded and even not so like-minded people. I want to thank Sheree Fitch who wrote the prompt that inspired this poem, Katherine Burgess and Tricia Arden Caldwell who gave me first-draft feedback, and mentor Peter Murphy, the village that helped me write it.”

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