Saturday, August 15, 2009

Writing about Obsessions

I'm a bit obsessive about fruit. I keep coming back for more. I’m often asked why I write poems about fruit—the strawberry, blueberry, apricot, apple, and others. This obsession with fruit is part of a larger obsession with food in general. Of course, it goes back to my childhood. I was a fussy eater whose father insisted that every plate be cleaned. I became adept at surreptitiously getting rid of what I could not bear to swallow. I made unnecessary trips to the bathroom to flush away wads of liver. I coughed asparagus into napkins. I stuffed my pockets with filet of sole. I plastered cottage ham under the dining room table. I risked danger. Food could get me in trouble.

In early adolescence I was a bit pudgy. The foods I loved—cake, cookies, candy, ice cream sundaes—were prohibited by my father who wanted me slender. My cravings only increased. I longed for something sweet and sticky. On the sly I consumed entire jars of Marshmallow Fluff.

I went to Sunday school, racking up eleven years of perfect attendance. That’s where I first met Eve and learned about the garden, the snake, and the apple. I must have filed all of that away for future use. Fruit, temptation, capitulation.

And then I saw the 1963 film, Tom Jones. I was mesmerized by that famous eating scene in which Tom and a buxom woman he meets at an inn sit at opposite ends of a long table and proceed to rip apart chicken legs and stuff their faces with juicy grapes, all the while gazing at each other with—yes!—seduction in their eyes. Food and sex. Of course! An extension of the apple.

I have been punished for my transgressions. Several years ago I developed a cranky stomach. Right at the top of the list of foods I could no longer eat—most of my favorite fruits. I only want them more. I am tantalized by their colors and aromas, their suggestive shapes, their various textures, the seeds, the skin. They are dangerous. They will make me suffer. I only want them more.

Writing about fruit is my way of getting what I want.

Organic Fruit

I want to sing
a song worthy of
the avocado, renegade
fruit, strict individualist, pear
gone crazy. Praise to its skin

like an armadillo’s, the refusal
to adulate beauty. Schmoo-shaped
and always face forward, it is what it
is. Kudos to its courage, its inherent love
of democracy. Hosannas for its motley coat,
neither black, brown, nor green, but purple-hued,
like a bruise. Unlike the obstreperous coconut, the

avocado yields to the knife, surrenders its hide of leather,
blade sliding under the skin and stripping the fruit. Praise
to its nakedness posed before me, homely, yellow-green,
and slippery, bottom-heavy like a woman in a Renoir, her
flesh soft velvet. I cup the fruit in my palm, slice and hold,
slice and hold, down to the stone at the core, firm fist at the
center. Pale peridot crescents slip out, like slivers of moon.
Exquisite moment of ripeness! a dash of salt, the first bite
squishes between tongue and palate, eases down my

throat, oozes vitamins and oil. Could anything be more
delicious, more digestible? Plaudits to its versatility,
yummy in Cobb salad, saucy in guacamole, boldly
stuffed with crabmeat. My avocado dangles from
a tree, lifts its puckered face to the sun, pulls
all that light inside. Praise it for being small,
misshapen, and durable. Praise it for
the largeness of its heart.

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  1. I loved this poem, Diane! Would you mind if I used it in one of my fall classes (crediting you accordingly)? My Corcoran students might really enjoy the visual dimension.

    Cheers, Sandra Beasley
    in Washington, DC

  2. Hi, Diane, your note about the food obsessions struck a cord. Food was always the source of a lot of trauma in my family when I was a kid. Both my parents spent years in concentration camps where there was never enough to eat, so after the war they were always anxious about food. The ironic thing was that my sister was a fussy eater. Here's a poem I wrote about a story my mom told about her conflict with my sister about food.

    Fussy Eaters

    Fifty years later, my mother says,
    Johnny, remember how you wouldn’t eat
    the good Polish sausage your father brought
    from Starchek’s Deli? Such a fussy eater

    and your sister Danusha was worse. In the camps,
    she would chew on a stick from morning
    to night and beg on her knees to get
    some of the breast milk I was saving for you

    because the doctor said you were a goner.
    Not till I came to America did I understand
    what he meant by this word. A goner—yes.
    But in America, Danusha wouldn’t eat

    the sweet cabbage with vinegar and onions
    or the dumplings cooked with hot butter.
    Only ten, she’d look me hard in the eyes—
    like I was a stone dropped from the sky—

    and say, I can’t eat this Polack food.
    It’s gray and tough and laced with veins that steal
    my breath away so much I feel like choking.
    And I would say to her, But you’d eat

    Marzipani, and one time I slapped her
    and gave her five dollars—this in a time
    when you’d work hard all day for five dollars—
    and she went to Rickey’s Restaurant

    and ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes
    and came home and was sick in the toilet.
    This made me happy, and I said to her,
    Now, you’ll eat my cooking. Now, you’ll like it.

  3. Sandra--
    I'd be delighted to have my poem make its way into your classroom. I'd also be happy to respond to any questions your students might have about the poem. Oh, the hours I spent making word changes to get the lines the right lengths!

  4. John--That's a wonderful poem. Mine, of course, seems trivial in comparison to the weight of yours. I've written a number of food poems. This one is my only concrete poem.

  5. I am also obsessed with food. I eat avocados almost every day. Great poem, Diane!

  6. Every day! I think that moves from obsession to addiction. Do you live in California?

  7. Love the avocado poem! Funny enough, I've been mulling over a blog post about the nature of poetic obsessions, myself. I'm only just (after 30 years of serious writing!) figuring out what some of mine are. Food makes for some great poems... so many emotional connections with it, memory & family stuff, and the pure physical as well.


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