I have gone through many phases in my poetry writing career. One of them, about a quarter century ago, was the push to preserve wisdom gained on the inner journey in tidy, resplendent packages. Zen telegrams I sometimes called them. Somewhat, though not entirely, derived from ancient Chinese, Japanese and Persian sources, these pithy utterances charmed me, and sometimes others, with their brevity. A number of them are contained in the collection Divinity Indwelling.
Poets usually consider such compact packages more than enough, and further explication is reserved for studies in English Literature. But at some point in my essay writing career I felt it useful, if not exactly prudent, to elaborate on the philosophical underpinnings of an earlier endeavour. (Now, in 2012, I am not so sure.) This became Another Look At “The Orange”:
A perfect being Offering itself up For my pleasure.
I peel and devour, Gladly go For a shower.
Flesh of my flesh, Neither Fate nor power.
Sometimes, in the course of a rather dispiriting rainy afternoon, it seems appropriate, if not quite necessary, to further elaborate on some of my more pithy utterances. Whether this rather adolescent desperation to feel that one has successfully communicated the contents of one’s vision through the medium of the written word proves to be any more than yet another elegant and fastidious futility remains to be seen, but in the apparent linear interim let me attempt to enchant and then channel your perhaps flagging curiosity.
I have, of course, just completed the consumption of a store bought orange. As I was chewing on its juicy entrails, I recalled the above quoted poem (from 1991’s Flair, Forty%Off). My thoughts, as they have an annoying tendency to do, spread like wildfire, and I was compelled to seek refuge at the computer, instead of stretching out on the couch for one of those serendipitous naps I have come to know so well.
In that small book there are several approaches to that exalted condition, experienced and expounded upon by the turn of the century Canadian doctor, Richard Bucke, know now as cosmic consciousness, but perhaps The Orange best reflects the daily regimen of such a state. It is, of course, notoriously difficult to maintain such divine elevation. One’s neighbours and colleagues expect, and deserve, less. And if they do not get it, one quickly discovers there are special places and foods in most communities for such parboiled space cadets, not to mention the kindly faces who will take to your care like ducks to water.
When so viewed, the orange is, indeed, a perfect being, offering itself up for your pleasure, as is any organic gismo molded by mother nature. Its self sacrifice, when plucked from twig and branch, is no more distant from your ken that the lowering of your cold flesh into the soil of our planetary mother. Stretching one’s consciousness in either or both directions can be an approach to the state Bucke defined as cosmic. Such conscious effort will perhaps only lead to an illumination of the intellect, but that softens the ground for a later spontaneous outpouring, which will hopefully embrace the entire being, the being that knows rather the one who just thinks.
To solemn vegetarians who point to the callous disposal of cow, sheep and pig, I would suggest an analogy to the desperate wailing in hospital ward and terminal bedroom, where the human soul, sunk in the seductive illusion of mortality, clings to form with all its might, while death, with all its extravagant denouements, kindly drags another unwilling victim through the doors of despair to the life of after.
There was a memoir in today’s newspaper which illustrates this analogy perfectly. “I can see dad shuffling along with his oxygen tank. Trapped in his body like a forest creature in the jaws of a bear trap tearing its leg off to be free. Like a seabird covered in oil flopping on the filthy beach. Like fish mottled with an unholy disease unable to escape the cloud polluted waters.”
All of us, in this enigmatic and fantastic food chain, must learn to let go, let go of the identities so lovingly bestowed by family and community, for the myriad forms we take on our passage through physicality, while being dumbfoundingly intricate biochemical ecosystems remarkably well suited to their tasks and environments, are, in the end, only vehicles adapted to a present terrain, and when that terrain changes another vehicle is required.
The orange lies digesting in my stomach, flesh of my flesh, figure of the imagination, sight for the blind. I am neither the orchestrator of its fate nor the power behind its performance. An animate intelligence, both the telling and the told of the story, I peel and devour someone’s vision of a victim, and gladly go for a shower, a minor deity going for his stripes.