Even that first house, where you lived before sex existed. The wildness of your backyard, a country of buckeyes and decaying apple trees and English ivy, which your mother shredded to dirt and saplings in the interest of killing that bamboo, that bamboo will take over the yard if you're not careful. And all your forts and stashes razed, leveled, you hit puberty, shave off your pubic hair, tell your mother it looks like she napalmed the lawn. All of a sudden, you are exposed to a whole new street--Tulip Avenue, which runs behind your house, and which the jungle kept hidden until now, there are neighbors you never met--longhaired, stuttering boys poking at your new bareness.
Somewhere on this new road, there is a pet macaw, which your mother likes because it is a piece of the exotic, cerulean and yellow--but it rails into the night, no words, just matches the train which screeches at the base of the hill. Tropicana oranges. Coal. Commuter cars. When you were thirteen, you walked along these tracks with your brother, against the brick-colored rock, carved out to make room for trains, down over the Viaduct, where that boy was killed when you were eight, but keep up now, thirteen, and smoking one of your first joints with your brother, and all of a sudden that rancid heat tickled you. Places you didn't even know had nerve endings--your elbows, the arch of your feet, were tickled, you giggled and your brother laughed, and with your open mouths hot straw rushed in.
Sex didn't exist yet but muscles were a different matter--you played softball, or something like it but with no rules, in the field next to the Children's Center. You made the boys use your softball because the laces were yellow, not red, and your strange, wrinkled little kneecaps were branded with grass prints You lived less than a minute away, and had running taps, but out of glee, drank from the spigot on the outside of the Presbyterian church. Your mouth was instantly numbed, and you were learning for the first time that things taste differently according to how you acquire them. Later, this will serve you well, the pungency of all skin appealing to you at times and repulsing you at others, and you will know, This is the water you want.
There was also, in summer, the issue of the mulberries. Both purple and white grew--purple along the paved road leading into the state park, white in your backyard, along the fence, and on the street perpendicular, where you found yourself walking. The purple were too sweet but they were a satisfying color, and because of it, you ran the risk of eating one infested with ants and not knowing until you tasted a mild blood on the back of your tongue. The white deprived you of this excitement but were tarter, came up with the first crocuses of the year, unraveled to reveal a dark core. Where everything was being held together, and still eaten. Mulberries were no specific delicacy, but they came forward every year with no coaxing, like the most domestic of lovers, and in this availability, were seductive.
All kinds of fruit, really. The pears in Mr. Smith's front yard which flourished for years--but his wife moved out, there were outstanding warrants for his son's arrest, and the pears seemed to rot before they ripened. Honeysuckle along chain link fences, which mothers tried to pull up by the root but daughters relished, learning the gentleness with which one must demand that single drop. Women are always coming in an out of an appreciation for nectar. Plums which may not have been plums at first but which you ate anyway, to the dismay of your friends, convinced you were poisoned, I am dead, Horatio, but no--they were plums, as plums are wont to be. Their taut, sour little bodies thumped to the ground every year, and you ate, taking no real pleasure in their taste, but exuberant with their presence.
There must still be fruit that grows there, but you haven't eaten it in years. The blackberries you crushed between your thumb and forefinger have stopped blooming or else are pulverized by new and smaller hands. You drink water from the sink, watch the new chestnut trees rise--bent, like a grove of question marks--in the backyard. You think, there was nothing so erotic as my life before it, nothing in these homes and yards. You drive into Baltimore proper, climb into bed with your lover, who has no garden--and, kissing him, find that you have a mouth full of ants.