Noe Valley Voice September 2005

Poems by Maya Stein

Without Fail

The avocado tree outside the sliding glass doors
of my living room sprang from a series of pits
two young girls had tossed from their bedroom balcony
in various fits of boredom and scientific curiosity.
Or so my landlord tells me, his daughters now
grown and sprouting seeds of their own--
MBAs, New York careers, the lot of it.
He points out the other haphazard,
accidental bloomings--
a cherry tree, orange, plum--
but says, with a grimace
and an odd sense of satisfaction,
that none of the fruit is edible.

I try anyway.
Steal down the trap door to the garden
on a day he's not here, spend an hour wandering
the overgrowth. The trees are weighty
with fruit and possibility
and I just don't believe him.
This is not some desert mirage.
What I see, in fact, is
the opposite of fallow.
A matrix of earth and roots and all the good tools
for bearing fruit. Couldn't get any
better than this, I think.
The right shade, the right sun, rain,
all of it right and obviously more than enough.

The trees stand transcendent and wise,
and indeed, the branches climb higher
than I'll ever be.
A primal tangle of
bark and leaf and blossom, but mostly
what there is
is fruit.

Poised there like a studio photograph,
all luster and perfection,
something Mapplethorpe could have conjured
in his off-hours from the lilies.
Trees gratuitous with fruit,
gorgeous orbs of color, and the word bounty
is what springs to mind at a moment like this.
Or Eden. I am in
such a garden.

And yet,
each thing I take, once opened,
reveals the true truth of itself.
Under shiny, promising skins,
the interiors have waged a losing battle.
Without fail
the plums and cherries are ruined microcosms of flesh,
the oranges hollow skeletons of their well-fed
supermarket cousins.
The avocados have simply lied to themselves.
Inside their mottled moonscape shells
lies a fibrous wasteland of pit and disease.

I wonder how, with its fruit in such decline,
and a graveyard of castoffs haloing
underneath, like a perpetual, vicious reminder of
doom and genetic failure,
how a tree, nevertheless, can aim skyward
with such unstoppable

Window Boxes

In another life
or city,
this would be called
Poking your nose
where it doesn't belong.

But I was in this city
and in this life,
feeling oddly at peace
in my Taurean body,
and aware, for the first time,
of my desire to edit
this urban horticulture,
and I took the great plunge.
Dove into the mess
with the single thought
of making it better,
prettifying a place that was not mine.
And discovered
what great reward it is
to pluck the dead flowers
from someone else's
window boxes.

And though, with the dead stalks gone,
the remaining ones looked so exposed,
susceptible to whatever harsh reality
had taken the rest of the plant away,
I wondered if the owner of these remaining flowers
would, now, with greater precision,
direct the watering can.
And if this new, naked space revealed, in fact,
that other, magnificent reality
of what was actually
quite possible again.

How Gentle

Despite the gathering rain
and the unkind wind,
the gardener bent toward the earth
and dug just as deliberately as ever, eyes down,
not noticing the rest of the world
had hastened indoors toward
television sets and reheated dinners.

The air was thick as a mattress.
heavy as chimney soot, dark as a
fox thief poised on his hind legs, waiting.
No one else was interested
in this kind of weather,
the impending roil of an electricity tantrum.
Instead, they turned up the heat inside,
made microwave popcorn,
read their horoscopes.

The gardener was mindful only
of the soil, the integrity of its
chemical composition, the ratio between
nutrient and mineral,
and earnest calculations followed
while inside the heated, halogened homes,
there was a rage
of infomercials.

I'm picturing the gardener's hands,
a matrix of skin and patience.
How gentle
the fingertips must be
for this work of pressing the earth,
coaxing a home for that one precious rooted thing
out of the fecund,
breeding chaos.

Maya Stein, 33, has lived in San Francisco for more than 10 years, most recently on Upper Clayton Street--which, she points out, is still within the neighborhood's 94114 zip code. Her favorite Noe Valley hangouts are Café XO, Lovejoy's Tea Room, the Upper Noe Rec Center, and (afterwards) Fitwell Chiropractic. Stein has self-published two collections of erotic-themed essays, Spinning the Bottle (2004) and The Overture of an Apple (2003), as well as two chapbooks of shorter works. More of her writing can be found at

The Noe Valley Voice invites you to submit fiction, literary nonfiction, or poetry for publication on the Last Page. Please mail manuscripts, which should be no more than 1,500 words, to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Or e-mail Don't forget to include your name, address, and phone number, and an SASE if you want your manuscript returned. We look forward to hearing from you.