512: To Offer Sweet Fruit to the Ghost

512: To Offer Sweet Fruit to the Ghost

512: To Offer Sweet Fruit to the Ghost


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

 Just recently, I visited my 96-year old grandmother. And while she has plenty of age-related fogginess, her memory of her youth is as sharp as ever. She tells me how she picked fruit as a kid walking home from school through the orchards of the Yucaipa Valley. A stolen nectarine here. A pilfered peach there. Together we talked about ancestors that I did not know. An uncle she claims to still see at her lunch table. She talks to me as if they are still here, their likes and dislikes, their personalities and idiosyncratic sayings. 

I was reminded during this last visit, that our ancestors are always with us, even when they are not. My grandmother points out the window to a white bird that only she can see. But I nod and agree that it’s beautiful. 

 I can’t help but love the way we humans love, the way we hold on to each other through the unrelenting years. I want her to tell me everything she knows about her past so that I might hold it now, and be the keeper of her secrets. She tells me that my grandfather, gone a few years now, is getting a house ready for her,  and that at night he still makes her laugh. I want to believe and honor everything she says. I want to remember that fresh fruit is the best right off the tree, even if it’s stolen or palmed from a neighbor’s orchard. And that if you see a white bird you must delight in it, even if the bird is only known to you. 

Today’s poem does that kind of honoring of our ancestors, the ones we know and the ones that have only ever been ghosts to us. For even ghosts are still a gift when someone points them out. 

To Offer Sweet Fruit to the Ghost 
by John Paul Martinez 

for Lolo

Ma says not to swat at the housefly
chirring in our headspace

for the past two hours
because it just might be you.

Ma shows me the flimsy browned pictures
of you & me in your workshop,

a scored-leather tool belt strapped across
your chest like a bandolier.

My whole body smaller still
than a durian, than a jackfruit.

Ma asks if I remember you. I tell her:

            I don’t even remember myself.

I have now lived over ten times
the years that I have known you.

All my life, I have known you
only through unknowing.

Each year, Ma collects more and more
superstitions. On your death anniversaries,

she reminds me & Ate & Ading to not be
so heavy-footed around your annual shrine.

The tame light of a fat candle splashes
on the bowl brimmed with your favorites:

plantains, mangoes, and the plumpest grapes.
How odd it feels to celebrate your passing.

To offer sweet fruit to the ghost
of a ghost.

Because it is all I am ever able to offer,
I practice a few reminding beliefs.

I walk lightly
around candles.

I leave sugar out
for flies.

"To Offer Sweet Fruit to the Ghost" by John Paul Martinez. Used by permission of the poet.