The Papaya Tree

It was the papaya tree
outside my bedroom window
that I loved most about
that summer in Guangzhou,

its fruit tropical and exotic,
but not so exotic
that my friends in Wisconsin
wouldn’t know it was tropical and exotic.

The weeks passed and I watched the fruit ripen
as I drank beer on the patio
and played badminton in the street,
inventing in my head
the adjectives that would best convey

the freshness
of the sweet, sticky juice 
as it squeezed onto my face and fingertips,
and how adventurous
and how youthful I was
to eat a papaya
from a tree in my backyard.

Imagine my surprise, then,
when, on my last night in the country,
I finally cut down a fruit
and sliced it in half
for my final dinner
and found that it was not a fruit at all,
not a papaya,
but a hollow gourd with tiny white seeds
that looked like it might be edible
if roasted in an oven,
and covered with brown sugar,
like the squash my mom used to make 
when I was a kid.

—Colin Lockard, Beijing, China