On New Year’s Eve, my father overfills the baskets with oranges,
mangoes, grapes, grapefruits, other citrus too, but mostly oranges.
The morning of the first, he opens every window to let the new year in.
In Chinatown, red bags sag with mustard greens and mandarin oranges.
A farmer in a fallow season kneels to know the dirt. More silt than soil,
he wipes his brow and mumbles to his dog: time to give up this crop of oranges.
The woman knows she let herself say too much to someone undeserving.
She lays her penance on her sister’s doorstep: a case of expensive oranges.
At the Whitney, I take a photo of a poem in a book behind the glass.
Above it, a painting: smears of blue, Frank O’Hara, his messy oranges.
The handsome server speaks with his hands: Tonight is grilled octopus
with braised fennel and olives, topped with peppercress, cara caras, and blood oranges.
No one at the table looks up, ashamed by the prices on the chic menus.
The busser fills my water and I inhale him: his faraway scent of oranges.
Seventh grade, Southern California: we monitored the daily smog alerts.
Red: stay inside. White: play outside. I forget what warning orange is.
Clutch was serious about art and said our final projects could be
whatever . . . performative . . . like, just show up with a wheelbarrow full of oranges.
Jan, in all of those first six years, why is all you can remember this:
the mist rising in the sunny air as you watched her peeling oranges.
Copyright © 2022 by Jan-Henry Gray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.