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Still Life (pommes d’orenge)

I

low light of three candles
round thickened wax, high wicks of flame red, then yellow
then giving way to twining smoke 

twisting blackened vine
indivisible from the winter air –
but substantial, the fat belly of fire

guiding the gaze, irresistible
to what the light has built,
revealed – a grey and green-glazed bowl

wide uneven rim
as if the potter were new to the wheel
new to pulling beauty and utility

from what was formless
in this way the unpracticed bowl
speaks of unsteadiness, of losing one’s footing

and then regaining it
in the endless turn of time
the turning away from shapelessness

the bowl refracts the fire
of the candles
its outer surface sparkles, but only in places

the rest of it is dark
within it
is displayed five large oranges

and four verdant
oblong leaves, the veins
a perfect division of their curvature

the raw-edged leaves absorb the fire-light
growing darker as the day grows dark
but the bright fruit

with its dappled solid skin
reflects it
five glowing orbs

glisten as if wet
as if newly born
the sweetness an afterthought to their new-ness

like an infant’s smile
emerging from discovered sensation
everything is new, everything is new….

II

in Perpignan in 1321 the young wife of an old leather worker
with long fingers and coarse black hair
gave birth to a child, who mirrored her black hair

but possessed the hands of her husband
it was a mid-winter’s birth
and the air was sharp

with the distant sea and the nearby river and the North winds of the Pyrenees
on a mild day in mid-December
when the afternoon turned to milky dusk

the new mother of the new child
rested for a moment by the river Tet
the infant asleep at her swollen breast

she had what we would call a craving
or a yearning
for the candied fruit of pignolat

her tongue could taste
the bitter-orange turned
like alchemy to bitter-sweet

gathering her child
she hurried along the river
which itself was hurrying

in rocky infinite currents, its mouth open
and emptying to the Mediterranean
she must speak to her husband

about the fresh arrival of bitter oranges
being carried to market from Seville
she must speak to him of the sweetness that mixes with the bitter –

III

from the glazed beginner’s bowl
I gently lift and place in my palm
one large orange

it is not bitter
we have lost our taste for anything
that requires one thing to become another

the orange is heavy
it has traveled a long way to be presented in this bowl,
from an industrial orchard in Florida

(could it be called an orchard?)
let us call it an outdoor factory
of countless acres countless trees

tended only for what can be taken
and the countless and uncounted
brown hands that pluck the fruit from their stems

the Honduran man who picked the orange
my hand now cradles
leapt quietly on to a moving train

his thin torso quivering with spiked fear
as his hands pulled his body away
from the receding ground

pulled his body away from the palm trees and dirt roads, lagoons and ocean waters
of Puerto Lempira
his people are Miskito his ancestors swam to shore

from slave ships wrecked on the rocks of the Caribbean
first their broken arrival now his broken departure
from the blood-drenched flooded country

he makes his winding way
paying his future (his past now empty as his pockets)
to the coyotes

who bring him to the fruit factory
the hours and hours of daylight are for work
he learns quickly how to select the ripened fruit

and keep it, unlike his body, from bruising
his dark hands and small fingers
grow as rough and gnarled as the branches he tends

someone gave him a hat
the sun and the palm trees whisper to him of home, he can’t think of that now
nothing is new, nothing is new….

his wages, once he finishes with the coyotes
in a year or two
will wend their way back to his young wife

who just had a child
sometimes she sits by the Patuca River
and has a craving for oranges

 

 

 

 

 

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