Tom Laichas

Lemon Tree Season

The front yard lemon tree is a dying clock, its hours dragging. Its sickness
breaks my habits.

Every day one summer in my child-home I go out back to kill the fist-thick
lemon tree spider. I throw rocks at its web. Next day it’s there again. and I
kill it again.

A spider monkey perches on that lemon tree and eats blackberries from the
vine below. Some neighbor owned that monkey. Now the monkey owns

A red-winged parrot screams from the top of the front yard tree, not ten feet
from the top of my head. Standing beneath the monkey, I am a boy. Beneath
the bird, I am a man. Always there’s a tree.

My grandmother warns me that roses have thorns, but she doesn’t say a
word about lemon trees. Those slender thorns go deep into my hands. I will
pick roses, but I will not climb lemon trees, not again, not even for their

Once, no one in the family ate lemons. Wrapped in wax paper, the fruit was
an unaffordable indulgence. Then we all moved to California. Citrus
weeded up in every back yard, bearing more fruit than any one family could

Dad simmers lemon and rice soup, a Greek soup, his father’s soup. Because
the lemons are from our tree, I think our family invented the soup. I think
my grandfather discovered lemon, chicken, and rice.

Taste this. It’s sour-grass. Tastes like lemon. Chew the stem. The juice is so
sour it fills the mouth with spit. It’s like eating a lemon, but easier. Long
stems, small yellow flowers.

A lemon tree that dies is like a simile. It’s wooden armature for the word
die, a leafless scaffold on which every recent loss must hang. A dying tree
haunts. It is a body and is like a body’s bones once the body is only bone.

The lemon tree dies from the brittle twigs inward to the heartwood. How
old is it, asks the woman who knows about trees. Fifty years, maybe sixty, I
tell her. Well, she says, that’s old. Sometimes there’s no reason for it.
Sometimes they just die. 

Tom Laichas is author of Three Hundred Streets of Venice California (FutureCycle Press, 2023), Sixty-Three Photographs from the End of a War (3.1 Press, 2021), and Empire of Eden (The High Window Press, 2019). His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Salt, Jabberwock, Blue Unicorn, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Stand, and elsewhere. He lives in Venice, California.