Amy Beth Sisson

Lisbon Lemons

There are no native lemons in California. My old neighbor’s tree descended from Asia as did all the citrus in North America. Her tree fruited prolifically. People on the street who didn’t have their own tree reached through the thorny branches and gathered paradise to squeeze on an avocado or use in a pasta dish with rosemary plucked from a hedge. Sometimes we met by chance while clutching our bright treasure. We talked restaurants and weather. “Did you hear Hunan Chili is closing?” “Have you tried Scratch?” “Will it ever rain?” Few of us were native to California. We came for tech jobs from Nigeria, Israel, India, China, Indiana. I was the Cali native, born at Cedars of Lebanon in LA but our family transplanted back east when I was only three.

The California citrus groves require irrigation. Homeowners on our street tore out thirsty lawns by the roots and replaced them with xeriscaping but saved the citrus. We were renters and our lease required us to water our grass (unless the Sierra snowpack was inadequate and the city imposed restrictions). The Mexican/Australian couple planted their front yard with artichokes. They let the buds open to display the violet centers plush with tiny tubular flowers.

After five years, I began to learn the names of the shrubs: flannel bush, ceanothus, the fragrant sages. Then, I, too, tore out. The rent got too expensive. I was tired of the buzz of Maseratis down my block-long street lined with multimillion-dollar bungalows. Now, back east, I miss the harvest. Here, everyone buys lemons from the grocery store.

In our dream band, on tuba:

Amy Beth Sisson is struggling to emerge, toad-like, from the mud in a small town outside of Philly. Her poetry has appeared in Cleaver Magazine and The Night Heron Barks. Her fiction has appeared in The Best Short Stories of Philadelphia, 2021, Enchanted Conversation and Sweet Tree Review. This fall, she left her day job in software development and started an MFA in Poetry at Rutgers Camden.You can follow her work at

Still life with a gilded Beer Tankard, Willem Claesz, Heda, 1634

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