p
o
e
m
s

is an edible plant
belonging to the gourd
family. Like other gourds
chayote has a sprawling habit
and should only be planted if
there is plenty of room in the
garden. Chayote is originally
native to Mesoamerica, a regional
and cultural area extending from
central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala,
El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and
northern Costa Rica, which some sources
refer to in the past tense; for others, it is very
much present. The plant was first recorded
by modern botanists in P. Browne’s 1756 work,
The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica. In 1763, it
was classified by Jacquin as Sicyos edulis and by Adanson
as Chocho edulis. (You will note the origin of those surnames
and remember that a real and robust existence always, always
precedes classification.) In the most common variety, the fruit is
roughly pear-shaped, with a thin, green skin coarsely wrinkled, fused
with the green to white flesh, and a single, large, flattened pit. The
flesh has a bland taste, and a texture like a cross between a potato and
a cucumber. The chayote fruit is mostly used in cooked forms. It is
usually handled like summer squash, lightly cooked to retain its crispy
consistency. Like all fruits of the earth, including ourselves, chayote
is the subject of legends and myths, probably false. In Australia, where
it is called choko, people say that McDonald’s apple pies are actually
made of chayotes, not apples. It is also believed that this fruit caused the
mummification of dead bodies in San Bernardo, Colombia, where it is
extensively eaten. Both fruit and seed are rich in amino acids and
vitamin C, the leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular, and
anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has
been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension
and to dissolve kidney stones, yet I once heard a TV chef
refer to chayote as “trash fruit.” Strange how . . .
How strange that . . . but the truth,
like any shape we try to make,
is always, always strange.

Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Cold War, The Search Engine, and Cinephrastics. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Washington Post, The Believer, A Public Space, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches at The New School in New York.

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