Apples Are Mere Roses that Grow on Trees

Rosacea is a medium-sized family of flowering plants — my roots, too, are red…

…Rosacea is not the only color in the garden — in my backyard, we grow pride in rows of gritted teeth and bite into our tongues like Eve.

Rosacea … is not merely a romance — sometimes even the hip of a rose lies still in the bed of a patch of weeds.

Roses are not always red, she said.

She calls herself Jo-Jo, and she tucks herself into sweet dreams along the bed of the L.A. River. Jo-Jo was handpicked like an apple on the branch before it turned ripe. Her adopted reverend father pulled her from one of many tents lined up in a row in Los Angeles — where her cracked up mother planted her into the world.

The hip of a rose is the fruit of the flower. Jo-Jo’s hips are barren. Both can be eaten raw like a berry, and range in color from sweet to broken.

Jo-Jo clung to the branches of her family tree too tight — one night she went looking for her cracked up mother living in a tent in a town of barren soil, no good for producing fruit. Jo-Jo wrapped herself like a vine around her family tree enough to choke a flower and stop it from blooming, and Jo-Jo’s mother choked out Jo-Jo with fists filled with forgetfulness and rose-red lips wet on Jo-Jo’s barren hips

And I think I have to feel some kind of way about that, she said.

Sometimes the walls are too loud, she said. The walls are too thick and they want me, she whispers.

I tell her I know; sometimes the walls don’t kiss each other at perfect right angles

They meet in a mellow kind of soft curve where the corners of the room should be

Sometimes the room spins

Or we do

The walls of my mind — there are four of them

They meet in perfect 90 degree angles there is no rounding at the corners

But sometimes the walls are too loud and they squeeze together like my mind ate its green beans and grew up all in one summer

And stretching too fast that way feels like an apple browning in the sun

At her core, she is all seeds of promise — she could be a singer, or a drummer, or a painter, or a preacher’s daughter … if only. If only she had never taken that too-big-a bite, that cost her her two front teeth

She told me her smile was everything to her — before they took it from her

Even as she says so, her lips paint a grin across her dimpled cheeks, a grin so wide I imagine shoving my entire 22 years within its reach

Sometimes, when the walls scream into the hairs along the back of my knee caps I remember Jo-Jo and the way her little black body rocked itself back and forth and forth and back so she could make it all the way through her nightmare of a life story for me in her tented home along the bed of the LA River.

And when the walls are screaming, and I am rocking back and forth and forth and back and back and forth trying to soothe the hairs along the back of my cracking up knee caps, I remember that I have two chipped front teeth too —

But my lips are rose red like an apple — and Jo-Jo waters herself in the same kind of potting soil her mother used to sniff — just a whiff enough to grow a weak grin.

Jo-Jo, high like her cracked up mother now in a tent of her own, longs for the fruit she will never taste now that her teeth are gone, her tongue is dry, and her family tree withered to hell somewhere in the middle of a prison cell, where she took root for 18 years wondering if freedom by any other name would taste as sweet.

by Paige Pelonis, 2016

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