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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom

Songs and Poems

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

by John Tobias

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
in family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects of
During that summer—
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was—
Watermelons ruled.
Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;
And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.
The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.
But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which never maybe was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

Discussion and Activities
  1. What time of one's life is the time when unicorns are still possible?
  2. What does the speaker suggest in the line "Which may never have been at all?" How old do you think the speaker is now? Why?
  3. Why is the word imperial a good word to describe the slices of watermelon? (Reread the preceding line.)
  4. How do the "bites" taken now differ from those taken earlier?
  5. What effect does the gift from Felicity have on the speaker?
  6. A symbol in literature is an object that represents an idea.  What does the watermelon symbolize in this poem?