More like a vault — you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners — bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parents
to be someday mine,
then my child’s?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.
I have followed the career of Thomas Lux with much pleasure. The details of his poems often give me that moment of keen memory mixed with desire and clarity: I too had it; the dull refrigerator where only the maraschino cherries glowed like beacons flaring on a dark road. Unlike Lux’s speaker, however, I did eat. He says: “you do not eat / that which rips your heart with joy.”
I could not resist and late one night removed one little cherrie from the glass jar. The top was difficult to remove: it had ossified into place. Under cover of a piece of toilet paper (the only disguiser I could find: a napkin would have been noticed) I took the small cherry up to my bedroom on the third-floor. There were no festivities in my house and I have no idea how the cherries made their way in. I slept in the former servants’s quarters. We had no money but we had a true barn of a Victorian home: the carriage house was huge, the servants’s quarters were perfect lodging for the children, and the dumbwaiter had to be locked up by my father after one too children got stuck in it. And the back stairs–plain, unornamented, cold–were the perfect place to hide.
Lux’s poem opens up a world of memory for me. I feel such kinship to the boy who was strong enough to resist the cherries. Read more of his poetry. You won’t regret it.