Today I dug an orange tree out of the damp, black earth.
My grandfather bought a grove near Anaheim
at just my age. Like me, he didn't know much.
"How'd you learn to grow oranges, Bill?"
friends said. "Well," he said, "I look at what
my neighbor does, and I just do the opposite."
Up in Oregon, he and his brother discovered
the Willamette River. They were both asleep
on the front of the wagon, the horses stopped,
his brother woke up. "Will," he said, "am it a river?"
My grandfather, he cooked for the army during the war,
the first one. He flipped the pancakes up the chimney,
they came right back through the window onto the griddle.
In the Depression he worked in a laundry during the night,
struck it rich in pocketknives. My grandfather,
he liked to smoke in his orange grove, as far away on the property
as he could get from my grandmother,
who didn't approve of life in general, him in particular.
Smoking gave him something to feel disapproved for,
set the world back to rights. Like everyone else,
my grandfather sold his grove to make room
for Disneyland. He laughed all the way to the bank,
bought in town, lived to see his grandsons born
and died of cancer before anyone wanted him to, absent
now in the rootless presence of damp, black earth.
"Common Ground" by Paul J. Willis, from Visiting Home. © Pecan Grove Press, 2008.