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Bananas

Lorna Dee Cervantes

for Indrek


I

In Estonia, Indrek is taking his children
to the Dollar Market to look at bananas.
He wants them to know about the presence of fruit,
about globes of light tart to the tongue, about the
twang of tangelos, the cloth of persimmons,
the dull little mons of kiwi. There is not a chance
for a taste where rubles are scarce and dollars, harder.
Even beef is doled out welfare-thin on Saturday’s platter.
They light the few candles not reserved for the dead,
and try not to think of the small bites of the coming winter,
irradiated fields or the diminished catch in the fisherman’s
net. They tell of bananas yellow as daffodils. And mango—
which tastes as if the whole world came out from her womb.


II

Colombia, 1928, bananas rot in the fields.
A strip of lost villages between railyard
and cemetery. The United Fruit Company
train, a yellow painted slug, eats
up the swamps and jungle. Campesinos
replace Indians who are a dream and a rubble
of bloody stones hacked into coffins: malaria,
tuberculosis, cholera, machetes of the jefes.
They become like the empty carts that shatter
the landscape. Their hands, no longer pulling green
teats from the trees, now twist into death, into silence
and obedience. They wait in Aracataca, poised
as statues between hemispheres. They would rather
be tilling their plots for black beans. They would
rather grow wings and rise as pericos—parrots, poets,
clowns—a word which means all this, pericos, those
messengers from Mictlán, the underworld, where ancestors
of the slain arise with the vengeance of Tláloc. A stench
permeates the wind as bananas, black on the stumps, char
into odor. The murdered Mestizos have long been cleared
and begin their new duties as fertilizer for the plantations.
Feathers fall over the newly spaded soil: turquoise,
scarlet, azure, quetzal, and yellow litters
the graves with the gold claws of bananas.


III

Dear I,
The 3′×6′ boxes in front of the hippie
market in Boulder are radiant with marigolds, some
with heads as big as my Indian face. They signify
death to me, as it is Labor Day and already
I am making up the guest list for my Día de los Muertos
altár. I’ll need maravillas so this year I plant caléndulas
for blooming through snow that will fall before November.
I am shopping for “no-spray” bananas. I forego
the Dole and Chiquita, that name that always made me
blush for being christened with that title. But now
I am only a little small, though still brown enough
for the—Where are you from? Probably my ancestors
planted a placenta here as well as on my Calífas coast
where alien shellfish replaced native mussels,
clams and oysters in 1886. I’m from
the 21st Century, I tell them, and feel
rude for it—when all I desire
is bananas without pesticides. They’re smaller
than plantains which are green outside and firm
and golden when sliced. Fried in butter
they turn yellow as over-ripe fruit. And sweet.
I ask the produce manager how to crate and
pack bananas to Estonia. She glares at me
suspiciously: You can’t do that. I know.
There must be some law. You might spread
diseases. They would arrive as mush, anyway.
I am thinking of children in Estonia with
no fried plátanos to eat with their fish as
the Blond turns away, still without shedding
a smile at me—me, Hija del Sol, Earth’s Daughter, lover
of bananas. I buy up Baltic wheat. I buy up organic
bananas, butter y canela. I ship
banana bread.


IV

At Big Mountain uranium
sings through the dreams of the people.
Women dress in glowing symmetries, sheep
clouds gather below the bluffs, sundown
sandstone blooms in four corners. Smell of sage
penetrates as state tractors with chains trawl the resisting
plants, gouging anew the tribal borders, uprooting
all in their path like Amazonian ants, breaking
the hearts of the widows. Elders and children
cut the fences again and again as wind whips
the waist of ancient rock. Sheep nip across
centuries in the people’s blood, and are carried
off by Federal choppers waiting in the canyon
with orders and slings. A long winter, little wool
to spin, medicine lost in the desecration of the desert.
Old women weep as the camera rolls on the dark
side of conquest. Encounter rerun. Uranium. 1992.


V

I worry about winter in a place
I’ve never been, about exiles in their
homeland gathered around a fire,
about the slavery of substance and
gruel: Will there be enough to eat?
Will there be enough to feed?
And
they dream of beaches and pies, hemispheres
of soft fruit found only in the heat of the planet.
Sugar cane seeks out tropics; and dictates
a Resolution to stun the tongues of those
who can afford to pay: imported plums, bullets,
black caviar large as peas, smoked meats
the color of Southern lynchings, what we don’t
discuss in letters. You are out of work.
Not many jobs today for high physicists

in Estonia, you say. Poetry, though, is food

for the soul.
And bread? What is cake before
corn and the potato? Before the encounter
of animals, women and wheat? Stocks, high
these days in survival products: 500 years later tomato
size tumors bloom in the necks of the pickers.
On my coast, Diablo dominates the golden hills,
the faultlines. On ancestral land, Vandenberg shoots
nuclear payloads to Kwajalein, a Pacific atoll, where 68%
of all infants are born amphibian or anemones. But poetry
is for the soul. I speak of spirit, the yellow seed
in air as life is the seed in water, and the poetry
of Improbability, the magic in the Movement
of quarks and sunlight, the subtle basketry
of hadrons and neutrinos of color, how what you do
is what you get—bananas or worry.
What do you say? Your friend,
                                                   a Chicana poet