My Dog

January 24, 2008

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I was prepared to write an eloquent entry all about losing an item I hadn’t known I was so attached to. I don’t misplace things very often, and so I was surprised when I couldn’t find it anywhere. A week later, I searched for wrappers under the passenger car seat and behold, the hand mirror was found. I decided to write about it anyway.

I bought a hand mirror from el Museo del Prado gift shop almost exactly five years ago—during a J-term class in Spain, 2003. It’s a perfectly round close-up of Francisco de Goya’s The Dog. I had to step close to the actual painting to discern the blob at the bottom of the frame. The rest of the painting is empty and lonely. I thought it was beautiful. It struck me as odd, though, that someone chose to use this rough, stormy image to grace a hand mirror, an object that’s usually bejeweled or colorful. Or maybe it’s fitting—a mirror you can slip into your pocket is usually intended to reflect only your face back, not your and a companion’s. Maybe the isolated dog is there to make you feel better.

I’ve only just tried to recollect my contemplation on the image recently, as I had thought I lost the mirror. I wondered why I missed it so much, despite the hinge having been broken and the bottom half of the mirror detached long ago. I realized I must be vain because I was frustrated that I had nothing else to check my teeth with or see how ridiculously shiny my T-zone is. I get paranoid about food stuck between my teeth and that little hand mirror has saved me from embarrassment many a time.

January 2003 was my first trip to Europe, and despite the adventures there were pockets of loneliness hiding between them. I distinctly remember sobbing to my mother on my host mother’s phone, curled up on the bedroom floor because my second nephew had been born that day and I was on the thirtieth floor of an apartment hi-rise in a city thousands of miles away, alone. Nighttimes were quiet and although I slept well and even dreamt in Spanish one night, which thrilled me, homesickness grew emboldened but faded by morning. El Museo del Prado was a stunning place, but dark, moody, and the visit marked an end to a lifetime experience that in turn ushered in post-traveling blues.

But I’ve still got my Dog with me, five years later. It doesn’t really symbolize my time in Spain—my memories capture more meaning than anything I bought there. But when I actually stop to think of that day, I like to see who I was then, nineteen years old, choosing the mirror off the shelf with the feeling that I had found an unpolished precious gem, being entranced by the song that was playing in the gift shop.

Oh–I also have a pen–a cheap pen–plucked from many that were strewn about the counter of a bar during an evening out in Alicante, that has lasted five years. My pal Anna’s identical pen ran out of ink within a few months of our return home. Although I used/use mine constantly, it has yet to dry up.

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ode to pomegranate

January 14, 2008

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I’ve been craving strawberries lately. . . . Longing for those days last summer when I’d bring a tupperware bursting with raspberries, strawberries, and cherries to work every day. It was better than candy, even chocolate.

There is nothing like in-season fruit. Right now, in the dead of winter, I eye berries at Cub suspiciously, as if they’re imposters . . . what right do they have to be readily available when they taste like shadows of their real selves? At least I can welcome oranges. January would be a much darker month without oranges.

Around Christmas time, I asked Marshall if he could pick up a pomegranate from Cub, as a Christmas treat. I don’t know whether they’re “in season” or available because they’re considered a holiday fruit, but I wanted one just the same.

Halfway through the de-seeding I realized that the author of How to Cook Everything was correct when he said that pomegranates were a lot of work (I initially scoffed at the warning). My hands looked like a bloody mess by the time I was done, warm and sticky juice staining my nails and countertops. After the first shedding of a clump of arils (the seed & flesh that surrounds it) I wisely changed into an old shirt. It also happened to be pink, and although I managed not to stain it anyway, little flecks of juice ended up on the lightswitch on the wall hovering over my fruit-opening work area.

Although it took time to release all 600 seeds, I was surprised at how easily they could be scooped out, without requiring too much pressure. It was still a delicate task; the clusters reminded me of raspberries, how little concave sections can fall into your hand if you don’t grab the whole berry off the vine just so.

After cleaning up and bleaching the countertop, Marsh and I ate them by the spoonful. I originally spit out the chewed-up white seeds, treating them like the seeds of large grapes. He eventually convinced me that they were perfectly edible and wouldn’t lodge in my throat. I was a little frustrated that such tiny beauties had so little surface area of sweetness and so much seediness. Why, for a fruit that is so special, why can’t the ratio be a little more pleasing. Or, rather, why does the sweetness disappear so quickly in the mouth.

But maybe that small burst of intense flavor is a lesson in stepping back from instant gratification. There is something serene and sacred about opening up and shelling out a pomegranate. Although, I think I’ll be looking for pomegranate juice from now on and attempt to find pomegranate molasses in a Middle Eastern grocery someday (an ingredient my cookbook said is a great way to incorporate the fruit into your meals).

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(Regarding the below: just having too much fun with Photoshop filters.)

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often a sweetness comes

January 6, 2008

Sweetness

for my mother

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet. …

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

(Stephen Dunn)

I’ve been rereading this poem frequently lately. I don’t know at what age thoughts of mortality hit the average person, but I feel like it’s usually adolescence or old age, but for some reason this year my mortality, and my loved ones’ mortality has been dwelt on and faced with fear, which is something I’d like to get past, because worry makes me grind my teeth at night and keeps good dreams suspended. In the midst of four joyful weddings and announcements of pregnancies and newborn babies this past month, news of funerals, some “expected” and some not, news of life-threatening illnesses, happened too. They are on the fringe of my concerns, simply because I’m not very close with those involved in the sad events. I’m definitely not the first person to ponder on the life cycle and never the last, but…I don’t know what I’m saying. I just wonder at how little of death and sorrow I have experienced, so I’m hoping I’ll be prepared, as prepared as you can be to be run over with grief.

I’ve been to countless weddings growing up, and was invited to 12 (attended 10) this past year alone. The number of funerals I’ve attended in my whole life, I can count on one hand.

It is hard to reconcile my experience with, say, my Sudanese brother Mike’s experience, and the most I can do is hold onto the mystery of God. I demand answers so often.

To avoid being a complete downer for the new year, I do want to point out how I like the gratitude Dunn expresses…experiencing the unexpected sweetness of what it means to be alive, in the darkest hours. As if on loan. I will hope for that gift for the thousands of unknown days to come.