POETRY ... Elizabeth BEWICK
Oranges at Christmas Time
I can see our dining-room still,
the sideboard with a central mirror,
heavy two-handled fruit bowl
doubled by its own reflection
in the glass; round red Jonathans
polished to perfection, Jaffa oranges
and sometimes pears; no rules
forbidding us to touch—they were
there for the picking.
At Christmas there were tangerines
for eating at the table after meals.
A conniving uncle taught us how to spit
the pips backwards into the fire
without getting up from our chairs,
my mother indulgent to his goings-on.
He was the same uncle who tickled us
till we screamed for mercy then drew
breath to ask for more.
Last Christmas I was given a tree,
a Citrus Mitis, fragrant with flowers
growing in clusters, perfectly formed,
delicate and white, five small oranges
appearing at the same time. They
ripened to perfection and I used
them in my next batch of marmalade,
alongside the Sevilles and the limes,
and it tasted fine.
New oranges upon my tree this year,
rich colour set to rhythm and to rhyme,
their succulence a secret learned
in childhood, schooled by my mother's
tolerance—acceptance of the aunt who
taught us to suck oranges messily
through a sugar lump, thrust deep into
a hole made through the rind, to reach
the flesh beneath.
Oranges at Christmas time, memory
sharp as their flavour, sweet as the
indulgences of childhood and the lasting power of love.
From Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems
Eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail
(Enitharmon Press, 2005)