Cancer carried off his cherished wife
as Florida floundered in a freak harsh freeze
and let the fahrenheit out of his life
never to gain back its lost degrees.
He still can’t quite believe she’s wholly lost.
He no more thought he’d see his dear one go
than that he’d see in Florida a frost
with that sudden drop last year to 12 below.

Grapefruit first froze then splurted slush.
Unripe oranges were cold and hard.
Tears were shed for many a blighted bush
in every northern Florida backyard.
Pipless tangelos with loose zipper skins
flashed frozen segments with a sound like farts,
burst pith with ice spikes like a hexer’s pins
hammered in to atrophy those parts.

Literally glacé, ice-candied rind
rims the ruined kumquats with a shine,
moonshafts from shadows, they’re the kind
served by Pluto to sad Proserpine.
Stacks of citrus branches burned all night
and glowed through the window of his sharpening shed
onto rows of glittering teeth that soon would bite
into more local orchards that were dead.

A man brought in his grandad’s old two-hander –
felling an orchard was a chore to share,
a source of grief to grower goose and gander
so he asks his wife to go Dutch on despair.
Her grip on the other handle steels his nerves.
She hears, as the kumquat crown bows to the blade
the boiling pock-pock of a life’s preserves
then collapsing pantry shelves of marmalade.

He gets a different memory from the saw,
and feels the rhythms they once used in love,
though the bedsprings aren’t so squeaky any more,
in the old two-hander that they pull and shove.
Gratified greed gives saws their grin.
Whether a moist juice dribbles down its jaw
or just a few dry crumbs stick to its chin,
any wood seems toothsome to a saw.

The moist eyes move from new cut stump to stump
of trees that never failed them, and, just last year
fruited when she found her frightening lump
and the whole house reeked with jamming and joint fear.
Now he sharpens saws with relish for them both
bitter that the bright oncologist maligned
their glorious groves by falling cancer ‘growth’
and all day the whetted teeth have whined and dined.

Never had saws more venom in their bite.
Never did fruit trees struggle less to fall.
Why shouldn’t Florida feel freezing blight
walk in from the groves and touch them all?
One Sunday his sense of loss sent him berserk –
another turkeyless repast to face alone.
He took the mower out and made short work
of everything his wife had ever grown.

Earth dragged down his darling and his dear
and considered it just recompense to toss
hydrangeas his direction once a year.
All Busch Gardens weren’t worth such a loss.
What happened to vast acres north and west
of central Florida attacked his wife;
the icy celsius gnawed at her breast
and robbed the Citrus State of half its life.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences