Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eat a Peach

I have a thing for peaches. I love them. In the morning, with my cereal, I slice them up and have them for breakfast. My slicing method is precise and never varies. I wash the peach, and I am like a parent giving a child a bath. Firm, but gentle. It’s important to rub closely around the dimple at the top of the peach, where the stem was attached. Sometimes a little nub is still there, like what’s left of a baby’s umbilical cord in those first days or weeks of infancy. I use my thumb to knock it off, and it falls into the dish drain, which I clean as rarely as possible. I don’t like the sliminess of it. Those little translucent slivers of onion, spaghetti worms, thumbnail-sized specks of broccoli or garlic – it makes me queasy to look at them and more queasy to touch them. But that is a bad habit, my reluctance to clean the drain, and I’m trying to describe a good habit, this washing and slicing and eating of a peach. After I knock the stem stub off, I pay special attention to the prime meridian as I call it, which is that equator-like line that transverses a peach. It starts out as an indentation, near the stem, but often becomes convex as you follow it around the body of the fruit. I try to scrub out the indented part, in case any dirt or germs or chemicals – pesticides – are lodged in there. Sometimes I think microscopic insect eggs could hide in that spot, or even, say, the dismembered leg of a mosquito. It’s important, I’m saying, to be thorough.

Once I’ve covered the trouble spots, I rub the globe with my fingertips, almost as though I’m trying to rub off the fuzz. I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the fuzz. Food, I think, probably shouldn’t be fuzzy. But if I give it about 30 seconds worth of fingertip massage, the fuzz is either removed, or slicked down sufficiently to appear gone, which is good enough for me.

I use a paring knife to cut the peach, which might be one of the few times I use a gadget for its actual purpose. Well, technically, now that I think about it, I’m not actually paring the peach. I don’t peel it. Since the fuzz has been matted down, I eat the skin along with the flesh. I don’t ever think of it as skin and flesh, however, as that might make me even queasier than the remnants of old food in the sink drain. So it’s not paring I do with the paring knife, but simple, precise slicing. I start at the stem and follow the line of demarcation – what would be, on an actual globe, the equivalent of the prime meridian –around the body of the fruit, slicing deep enough that the edge of the knife blade hits the peach stone. Once the blade hits the pit, it is very easy to smoothly rotate the fruit in the palm of my hand, keeping the knife firmly pressed against the pit. When the incision meets up with itself at the stem, I lay the knife down and take the peach in both my hands, giving a gentle twist. The fruit opens into halves, one of which cradles the red, pocked pit. That part is temporarily put aside, and I devote my full attention to half number 1, which is quickly divided into equal slices – one, two, three, four. Each of those slices is then divided into 3 or 4 bite-sized pieces. Those pieces are placed on top of the waiting bowl of cereal. The milk has not yet been added so as to avoid sogginess.

Half number 2 takes slightly more care, due to the presence of the pit, but essentially the same procedure is followed. Often one last slice will continue to cling to the pit; at that point, a slight tug will dislodge it and the slices can be trimmed to their appropriate size and -- somewhat more carefully -- added to the growing heap of cereal and fruit in the bowl. If the peach is large enough, two additional steps may be required. First, several sections of peach may need to be eaten during the process of composing the bowl. Second, in securing proper placement of the peach pieces, one might recall the maneuvers involved in the game Tetris, and attempt to strategically place the pieces to ensure that no peach topples from the bowl. Such toppling is not tragic, but should a piece hit the floor it is lost and must be disposed of -- I am not a believer in the "5-second rule," especially when it comes to fruit. The lost peach must be relegated to the trash or thrown out the back door to join the unofficial compost heap located, roughly, 20 yards over the ridge that borders the backyard. The proper way of introducing the peach to the compost is by flinging it, although flinging a bite-sized piece of fruit is considerably less satisfying than flinging, say, an old egg or overly ripe avocado. Bananas, too, are quite satisfying as they produce the illusion of a boomerang effect. They do not actually circle around, but one could imagine they might if one knew precisely the right speed and angle with which to throw it.

Once the peaches have been arranged atop the cereal heap, milk is added and eating commences. I try to ensure that every spoonful of cereal is mated with a piece of peach. Depending on the initial size of the peach, this may be possible, but often one runs out of fruit at about the 75% point and finishing up one’s breakfast can become a slightly bleak affair. It is important, on those mornings, to maintain perspective and not allow one’s spirits to sink over the loss of peach.

There are, after all, fresh tomatoes for lunch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where in the World

This isn't a new piece. Just lonely for my friends and ruing the end of summer. Enjoy.

Light catches the paddle of a weed. A hummingbird perches on a low branch of shrub outside my window. The blue spruce, which worried us in the spring with its sagging lower limbs and dried needles, no longer languishes. The open arms of the tree take a hit during our long winters; it’s as though the limbs attempt to hold up the snow, a heavy burden that collects on its boughs and causes them to droop. By summer, however, the tree has rebounded and its glaucous needles are gloriously blue, its branches sheltering a few sun-struck weeds and a smattering of grass below.

Early summer is dreamy here on the shores of Lake Ontario. The peonies are still flamboyant, although defeated, their pink petals accumulating like lingerie in the ivy. The irises, similarly, have shed their labial purple petals and are morphing into papery brown husks. A few flowers linger on the bleeding heart, but they, too, are getting in their last licks. The new stars of the yard will be the roses and the hydrangea, the latter of which will persist into fall.

It’s summer, and my friends are gone. My human friends, I mean, not these flower and avian acquaintances who are delightful, for sure, but harbor the quality of substitute. In summer, my friends visit other shores; they travel, they vacation. I’m not quite as ambitious as Emerson, who said he’d walk a hundred miles for a good conversation, but I do crave contact when they’re are gone. That’s probably why I watch the hummingbirds, listen for the zipper sound of their arrival, a sound that becomes the background noise of my days, as though the buzz of their wings is always right at my shoulder. They like the nectar I’ve mixed for them; it’s a little heavy on the sugar and I think I’ve become the equivalent of the neighborhood crack dealer for the hummers. I’m not sure whether they’re sparring or flirting at the feeder; the hummingbird social scene is a literal blur. But they dart and dodge and confront and zoom and hide and reveal and when one seems to gain the upper hand and temporarily stakes its territory, it sends its long quick tongue deep into the glass globe that holds the sugar juice and drinks, drinks deeply. I admire these dervishes, colorful as flying paint; they seem like tough little creatures as they charge, meet eye to eye, wing to wing, in some repeated dance of delineation that seems to say this is mine or I want you.

The hummers and the roses and the peonies are reasonable companions, I’m saying, but it’s a companionship based on observation that inevitably turns into imagination. There’s only so far I can go in my scientific zeal before I turn poet and begin to anthropomorphize too much, sentimentalize, over-imagine. The natural world tends to send me into some rather lofty realms where I imagine a mutuality that likely doesn’t exist. The hummingbirds don’t notice me, for the most part, and when they do, they flee. I am not their friend. The trees, the flowers, the wind, the grass – if there’s a consciousness, if there’s any relationship between these features of the yard and me, it’s a mystical one, a spiritual one. Sometimes I sense that relationship, but the sensation is problematic, as I believe in no god.

It’s complicated, you see, and so is this longing I feel for my friends. I miss the flesh and blood of them, the substance of them. I miss their words. I can’t really talk, in any satisfactory fashion, after all, to the robins or the spruce. And although I can listen, and do, and can learn from such listening – The first duty of love is to listen, so says Paul Tillich – it’s human language I crave. Vowels and verbs, words strung out in interesting ways, like lanterns lining a dark walk. I miss, simply put, talking the talk.

And, to be precise, I’m not really referring to in-person conversations with my friends. I’m talking about their writing. I miss hearing from them. I miss their letters, their emails. When I wake up in the morning, although I am blessed to hear birdsong – what could be better? – I wake with this thought: “Maybe someone will write to me today.” Those words, that hope, gets me out of bed. Not the warblers, not the chittering of the hummingbirds, not the rush of wind or the sound of rain on the broad leaves of the hostas... The prospect of the written word – that incites me to rise.

I sometimes joke with friends that when one of us dies, I won’t want to know, exactly. Instead I’ll want to think, a little sadly, with some degree of denial that’ll look like perplexity, “Ah, Jo stopped writing. I wonder why…” That is my anticipated euphemism for the deaths of my friends: so-and-so simply stopped writing. “Have you heard from Marianna?” I’ll be asked. “No,” I’ll reply, slowly shaking my head and looking off into the distance. “She stopped writing…”

There’s a corollary to my hunger for words; it’s not just that I need to see writing on a page, words on a computer screen. It’s a little hard to explain so I’ll be direct: I need to know where my people are. The degree of urgency might require emphasis: I need to knowneed meaning I will panic, will feel anguish if I don’t – where my friends are on the planet. I want to know what country they’re in, what city or town they’re in, I want to have some faith that their normal routines are intact, want to know whether those routines temporarily incorporate the local surroundings. Are A and B having breakfast overlooking the beach; will X shower after a run; is L brushing back her hair, idly, while daydreaming through a novel, and so on. When I know the customary location of a friend is about to change – when they travel – I become anxious. I can’t sleep. I want their itineraries. I want, as I half-jokingly requested of friends heading off on a trip this week, for them to strap GPS receivers to their ankles and feed me the signal while they’re gone.

That doesn’t happen, of course. My friends leave, or I leave, and for a few days or weeks we are, as we say, out of touch. I don’t hear from them and, therefore, cannot listen. And maybe that means the second duty of love is to endure silence. To wait. Or to turn, temporarily and perhaps insufficiently, to a kind of alternative conversation. I’d like to decipher the maneuverings of the hummingbird, I’d like to understand the night calls of bats or the soulful trembling choreography of the trees. Vocabulary is everywhere. But when my friends are gone, all I hear are wings, and although I recognize no god, I recognize – I listen to – these angels.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On the Day of Your Brother’s Funeral

Saw a man yesterday in a white convertible driving down a country road. No passengers but for three acoustic guitars in the back seat, upright as gravestones. The man's dress shirt rippled in the wind and his arm was propped on the door, crooked at the elbow, as though he were a carefree tour guide showing the instruments around town. “To your right are the college ball fields,” I could imagine him saying, with maybe a few gentle pings as response. “Up ahead we’ve got a great view of Lake Ontario…” A stronger strum replies. As they make their way down Bridge Street, a song develops. The man starts singing, and the guitars improvise their small-town blues. In the cemeteries, even the ghosts of the dead are pleased, and the sky assembles into elegiac cloud banks. Somewhere in the world brothers and sisters say goodbye.

From space, Earth is just a blue ball dipped in glitter.