The history of walnuts
They found walnuts in Pompeii’s Temple of Isis
on that bubbling August day Vesuvius blew.
I sift the ash of my middle-aged memory
and find Dad in an armchair, cracking walnuts
with a silver crocodilian vice that snapped
at my fingers every time I tried, the giggling nut
skidding out of my hands and rolling on the floor.
All evening the grunt and crack of cerebral shells.
He would pick out the grey matter, chuckle at
the brainy slithers. Pliny the Elder warned
that sitting under a Walnut tree brought heaviness
to the head, the poison penetrating the brain.
Sometimes the show: splitting a softer nut open
with his hands and I would marvel that Thor
was an electrical engineer for British Telecom.
My favourite game to reconstruct the shell
in my palm, a thoughtful globe of empty wishes,
a toy in the Ancient Chinese Imperial Court.
Always walnuts at Christmas, a treat of Dad’s cold
childhood with a single orange. Funny how poverty
gives the warmest memories. Charlemagne wanted
trees in his Orchards. Crusaders dragged home recipes
from sieges and sacrilege. They say they are a status
symbol in modern China: the oldest ones worth
a fortune. To me each one a moment of childhood
and as an adult I finally begin to enjoy the taste.
Held to my ear I hear Dad cracking and happy.
Matthew James Friday has had over 60 poems published in numerous international magazines and journals, including, recently: Bushfire Literature & Arts Review (USA), Dawntreader (UK), and the Waterford Teachers Centre (Ireland). The mini-chapbooks All the Ways to Love and Waters of Oregon were published by the Origami Poems Project (USA). Website: http://matthewfriday.weebly.com/