Cherry Picking

Basket of cherries under the tree

Standing on my stepstool
in this little tree, reaching, gently squeezing,
pulling, dropping
fruit into a basket hanging on
my arm.

This harvest reminding me again this year
that "cherry picking" was a vulgarity enjoyed
by the boys in my high school.
One boy used to sign his name "C.P."
on the surreptitious notes we
thought we hid from teachers.

He was the C.P.
He never got mine.
Though he gave me my first kiss
then told me how to do it better
in the dark in the Plaza Theater's
plush seats.
Cherry-red seats.

I reach and pull a lichen-rough branch
toward me and grasp the sturdy leaves.
Twigs tip my cap over my eyes.

I hold on tight to the leaves
with my left hand and
settle the cap back,
grinning as if teased.

After an hour
the cardboard basket emblazoned
in red with the name of the orchard
grows heavier and
the split wood handle scrapes
the tender inside of my forearm.

I rest the basket and my butt
on the ivy-padded fence.
A slow seep of rainwater
soaks my shorts.
No one to see the spreading
stain anyway.

Standing on the plastic lid of the compost bin
makes me a little taller.
The lid suddenly pops concave and I'm
an inch shorter.
Easier to laugh at that
than my growing shorter with the
slow shrinking of age.

Last year I leaned on the fence
to get to the branch that
hangs over the neighbor's yard,
reached too far, felt a rib give
out of its place
in the lineup.
Didn't hurt then, but
the soreness lasted weeks.

Today I walk through my back gate
and theirs
and step carefully 'round their
tomato cages and get that branch.

When I see them I'll confess and
offer some cherries, but
not mention that I'm pulling up
their vine that's twining into
the low branches.

Back in the tree, I say,
"Don't you have wings?"
to a bug that sticks
to a red globe I want,
even after I blow on him.
I nudge him and he crawls onto
my hand. So I hold him
up to a deep green leaftip.
This appeals to him and
he crawls off.

I find I am in a backbend yet
reaching still to pull down
that highest bough,
those red drops hanging
in the sky.

Glancing down I see right
underneath me the hard metal
handle of the stepstool,
promising this year's accident
far worse than last.

I let the bough go and it gracefully rises.
"Leave some for the birds,"
I think.
But the sweet fact is
I can dream but I
just can't pick them all.