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February 19, 2007
It is twelve degrees Fahrenheit out there today, but the sun is bright and brilliant, so we don't mind. I am warm and comfy in somebody's boyfriend's ancient sweatshirt. Ben has found a sunny spot on the kitchen table where he may sit and watch the birds at the feeder. And the two lemon trees are happy, too, each at its sunny upstairs window.

We inherited the lemon trees from my daughter, who left them with us on her way to Europe so they would be sure of being watered while she was gone. All summer they soaked up the sun, and soon one of them began to bloom, waxy white flowers that exuded a wonderful sweet fragrance. The flowers dropped, in time, and then there were three actual lemons on the tree: tiny, bright green. But definitely lemons.

They grew a bit, and one dropped off. Certainly the others would, too, I was sure: you can't grow lemons in New Jersey. There are no Jersey lemons. But they did not drop; they grew larger, and soon it was fall, and I brought them inside. And they grew more, until one was the size of any lemon you might find in a store, and they began to soften. But they were still green.

And then they began to yellow -- very slowly, a small patch at a time. Day by day I checked them, seeing more bright yellow every time I did so. Was it possible that there really would be Jersey lemons? Like the famous Jersey tomatoes, only sour? It seemed impossible, but it also seemed to be happening.

Let's have dinner on Thursday, I emailed Anna, and she and Chad agreed. I have a surprise for you, I wrote again. Guess what it is? And she could not guess. Thursday came and I harvested the lemon, packing it in a perfect little lemon-sized box, nested in shredded brown paper, and we took it in on the train.

We presented the lemon at Le Monde, near the cathedral where they will marry this July. My lemon! she exclaimed when she saw what it was. Exactly. My grandlemon.

Are you going to make lemonade? I asked.

I'm going to take it to school, she said, and we'll write a poem about it. She went on to tell us how one helps a class of children with learning disabilities write a poem; the creative process is a little different from the ones many poets employ. They would pass it around and touch its skin, talk about its color, cut it open and taste it, taste the peel. Then they would write their poem.

They like list poems, Anna said. It's a writing project they can do on their own and they really like that. And they love alliteration.

I thought of them in their classroom, the little ones, passing the lemon around the circle, writing their poem. I thought of all the things that have been hard for them, so many in their young lives, so many things that are not hard for other people, of how they often cry in their frustration, how they lash out at others sometimes, in their own powerlessness. And how the lemon poem was something they could do. In order to grow, I thought, you have to know you can do things. It can't all be can't. Nobody can grow in soil like that.

Anna's Lemon

-by the students of the Krisberg Room
Mary McDowell Center for Learning

It truly makes me see the lemon. It's a good poem. I wrote one about it myself, but it's not as good.

Anna's Mother's Poem
To My GrandLemon

Oh how big you are now!
And how bright now!
You are as bright now as the sun that ripened you.
We have watched you from when you were small:
tiny, green, not certain to survive.
At any moment you could have dropped from
your mother lemon tree,
the way your brother did,
but you hung on and grew.
You hung there through the hot of summer,
a heat you loved, and you swelled
with juice and joy we could not see.
And when it looked like winter was on its way,
we carried your mother tree inside
and set her by the window.

There you hung still, getting big and getting soft,
but you were still green! And then,
little by little, a little every day.
your yellow began to show.

To see the wonderful school in Brooklyn where Anna teaches, visit
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