The Lime Orchard Woman

By Alberto Ríos b. 1952 Alberto Rios
1
As she grows to twelve, her body begins
Its Spring, its hike along the trail
In the mountains that open
Suddenly to show a whole valley
So surprising one forgets
For the moment to breathe.
Her hips, and so her walk,
Her breasts, and so
The way she begins to see
How other people look at her,
How they are caught mid-breath, and shy.
But the day a train first came here,
They look at her like that:
No one staring at her face, no one
Noting a moustache curling up
Like the arms of the bald
He-man posing in the traveling circus
There on the face of the engineer.
She gets angry, steam in her head
The way the engine had
Barely held in, almost bursting.
Angry in the manner that a person might
Take an egg and hold it too hard.
Her breasts begin to grow,
And she gets angry.
Or, she gets angry,
So her breasts begin to grow.
She cannot remember exactly which.

Her mother had told her
This would come,
But told her so quickly, so much
In a hurry and in a small room,
And with the other things,
She neglected to say that also
They would stop growing,
So they might not.
She would have to wear—
She learns this in a dream—
High heels backward on her feet
To keep a symmetry of balance.
The angrier she gets through the months,
The more worried she feels
At the silliness of how
She has begun to grow two new shoulders,
Of how she will have to wear her shoes,
As bigger, one centimeter at a time,
She sprouts out like buds, at first,
Like fast plants,
Then, like the trees,
And finally unstoppable
In their season: fruit.
The future, she reasons, cannot be good.

2
At 28, she has forgotten what is past.
She sits and watches now her thighs
Flowing out like the broad
Varicosed backs of alligators
She has seen in moving pictures,
Pushed out around the metal
Edges of the lawn chair.
Long and flat animals,
Sated and full of wrinkling
Ridges, held as if by small bones
The way camping tents are suspended,
All from having eaten
Too many pigs, too many birds and cows
In the summers of her middle
Years of crying
When she was all mouth and chewing
To feel better, all without boys,
No Pedro of her own
And now the boys cannot
Come close, dare not
Dare the alligators
Which might come after them.


3
But no. This is an exaggeration,
This sadness
At het self. Sadness is like that,
Adding weight to a thing, to legs
The way legs look as one sits
In a chair relaxed,
Or on the edge of a wall.
As if one were a circus performer
With a partner, Ramón, Ramón standing
Feet planted this moment precisely
On the thighs.

But no. This is a further exaggeration.
Sadness again is like that,
It learns you, she thinks,
Makes you heavy in those places exactly
You have dared think to be strong.
On Thursday the 8th of this month
Miguel her husband left her,
But in that odd physics of how distance
Increased every step she took
Away from him.
As she left the house, he got farther.
As she, his María, walked out the door
He left her, and the more she walked
The farther he got, and smaller.
She had learned him as one learns
A pair of good leather shoes.
She loved him so much
She stopped thinking about him.
He was like breathing.
So that when sadness called, she went
To see what it wanted
And did not worry.
Sadness, again, is like that,
Not telling a person the whole story.


4
The orchard was his passion now
More than women,
More than hard words and fast guns
In the hands of other men.
And he tended his trees with fingers
He might have used touching
The hair of his young cousin, lovely
Marta, his wife, light skinned,
Eyes the color in the moss
And barks of his trees,
Who walked to the river and stayed.
Fingers that might have
Pointed out to her with care
The beaten line a trail made
Leading to his house, their house.
But he was busy growing the limes
So that her hair was like a bramble
Having to be torn away
Hard from her, leaving the blood.

All of this she said to him,
And it was true, or not true.
In a day or a week she would know.
Sadness was in her
Growing like the unstoppable breasts
Again, but it would stop.
As it had learned her,
She had learned it.
She knew only that next
She would have to get the high heels—
The dream had come again.
Put them on backward
To keep a symmetry of balance
For what she wanted to do:
Walk backward, to the moment
Her breasts were those small animals,
Just big enough
To touch him with their mouths
Not angry.

Alberto Ríos, “The Lime Orchard Woman” from The Lime Orchard Woman (Bronx: Sheep Meadow Press, 1988). Copyright © 1988 by Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of the author.

Source: The Lime Orchard Woman (The Sheep Meadow Press, 1988)

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Poet Alberto Ríos b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Midlife, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Love, Marriage & Companionship, Relationships, Coming of Age, Men & Women, Desire, Break-ups & Vexed Love, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alberto  Ríos

Biography

Alberto Ríos has won acclaim as a writer who uses language in lyrical and unexpected ways in both his poems and short stories, which reflect his Chicano heritage and contain elements of magical realism. "Ríos's poetry is a kind of magical storytelling, and his stories are a kind of magical poetry," commented Jose David Saldivar in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ríos grew up in a Spanish-speaking family but was forced to . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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