I intended for my writing today to be fueled by the idea of omnicentricity and one of my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens titled “Anecdote of the Jar.”
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
But I had trouble focusing today--I kept getting sidetracked by random thoughts. For example, I can’t stop thinking about a phenomenon called “street light blindness.” It seems there are two optical events that need to be recognized in street light installations. The loss of night vision because of the accommodation reflex of drivers’ eyes is the greatest danger. As drivers emerge from an unlighted area into a pool of light from a street light, their pupils quickly constrict to adjust to the brighter light, but as they leave the pool of light, the dilation of their pupils adjusts to the dimmer light much more slowly, so they are in effect driving momentarily with impaired vision. The other thing that should be considered when placing a light on a street is that oncoming headlights are more visible against a black background than a grey one. Less threatening, but also interesting, is the notion of light pollution, which results in urban areas when artificial light hides the stars and interferes with astronomy. A bit more menacing is the fact that light pollution can disrupt the natural growing cycle of plants.
This idea of blindness (or other related detrimental effects) caused by light came to me today because yesterday I was considering the idea of living one’s life with the goal of doing no harm. (I was struck by the irony that ineffectually placing lights could do more harm than good.) “Doing no harm” is a term often associated with the field of medicine, as in the theory of nonmaleficence that is taught to medical students: given an existing problem, it may be better to do nothing than to do something that risks causing more harm than good. In other words, the cure can be worse than the illness. (Consider the process of searching for enlightenment and the problems one can encounter along that path…)
But I am sidetracked again when I recall that a friend of mine once said that her armpits smell like hamburgers when she sweats. (I know this is quite a leap, and sometimes I don’t understand the workings of my synapses and why I store such information, and how it is connected. But not to worry. Wallace Stevens says, “What our eyes behold may well be the text of life, but one’s meditations on the text and disclosures of these meditations are no less a part of the structure of reality.” He also says, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.”)
Anyway, once armpits were on my mind, I had to do a little research. And, of course, there was a website on the topic of why Girls Smell Like Onions. (Close enough to hamburger for me.) Evidently women’s armpit sweat contains a relatively high level of a sulfurous compound which when mixed with naturally occurring bacteria turns into a thiol that smells malodorously something like onion. (I also discovered that men tend to smell like cheese, but I will consider that later. Maybe.) Perhaps the onion stayed on my mind today the same way it stayed on my hands when I was cutting one up to go in a pot of soup this morning. I tend to think we focus our attention where it needs to go, so I allowed my mind to follow the onion path. I have been doing a lot of reading on symbolism lately. So it seemed natural to consider the onion as a symbol.
I am constantly delighted by the way everything in the universe is connected, so I was not really surprised when I happened upon a blog titledThe Universe As An Onion, which discusses the symbolism of this edible bulb. The blog author notices that when one cuts an onion from top to bottom, the center is similar in appearance to that of an eye. She also mentions the practice of placing onion over the eye sockets of the deceased so they could see. This seems somehow ironic when one considers the eye irritation that can occur when cutting up onions. Having never been a corpse, I can’t report on the effectiveness of the previously mentioned practice, but I have read that onion has been used medicinally since ancient times to prevent flatulence, anemia, and to cleanse the digestive system. And back to the idea that a cure can contain negative side effects, the opposite can also be true--it should be noted that the more phenols and flavonoids onions contain, the more antioxidant and anti-cancer activity they provide. For example, the boldest flavored shallots seem to inhibit the growth of liver and colon cancer cells more than the milder tasting varieties of sweet onions such as the Vidalia.
It seems appropriate at this point to mention that when cutting an apple crosswise, the seeds are each cut in half and form the shape of a star. This small display of beauty also ruins the seeds in that they can no longer be planted to produce more apples. This was the inspiration for my poem, “Spin Art.”
“Inappropriate…” the ceiling fan whispers again, barely audible,
sounding softer than the skin on the wrist near the altar boy’s pulse,
meaning clearer than the whistle from a distant train.
“Follow the cycle of the crescent,” it would say.
Drawn to the blade by the promise of the blade,
pulled higher on the breeze like the loose end
of a half-freed gossamer scarf, woven to be twisted
and twisted, pulled, spiraling, whirling, and dancing on toe,
I mince around the center of that dark satisfaction,
until dangling by brainstem, I watch the others
spinning past and past and gone. “Time to stretch now!”
Pulled like a weed with too much root, too much anchor,
too much need to just turn loose and spin free in the wind.
At a critical point, the spiral ceases to expand. No reverse.
So I travel the same territory over and around.
Not enough lift, not enough drag, not enough heart. Not enough.
Sounds smooth, you say? “Yes, but only till the sockets start to give.”
No fanfare, please, and no party colored banner printed out one night
in soft staccato stops and starts with all its tentatively connected parts
less meaningful than dandelion seeds lined up head to toe
along some specially selected crack of a dry July sidewalk.
“The only still point is the center.” Invisible,
unless they cross-section to see if my seeds form a star.
But once you make that slice, you break forever
the silver-green membrane around each gentle potential.
And what kind of tree would a half-seed grow?
All the murals pick up speed until they move outside
the need to be specific. One tree, one leaf, one green…
like a dry grass brush was dragged along the whole wet mess of eternity.
Clouds and shoulders. Leaves and toes. All together now!
One red dot, one last line, fine red stripe. “One last time?”
Note: I always reassure my creative writing students that most poets write about suicide at some point in their career. It is just part of that bouncing back and forth that the brain can’t seem to keep from doing. And while suicide can be thought of as the complete antithesis of doing no harm, it can also be a source of beauty when considered poetically, which leads me of course to one of my favorite poems, admittedly a challenge to grasp, “in a middle of a room” by E.E. Cummings:
in a middle of a room
stands a suicide
sniffing a Paper rose
smiling to a self
"somewhere it is Spring and sometimes
people are in real:imagine
somewhere real flowers, but
I can't imagine real flowers for if I
could, they would somehow
not Be real"
(so he smiles
smiling) "but I will not
everywhere be real to
you in a moment"
The is blond
with small hands
"&and everything is easier
than I had guessed everything would
be;even remembering the way who
looked at whom first,anyhow dancing"
(a moon swims out of a cloud
a clock strikes midnight
a finger pulls a trigger
a bird flies into a mirror)
One last handful of things to consider today:
- In the Middle Ages, onions were such an important food that people would pay for their rent with onions and even give them as gifts.
- There is an old tale of a shipwrecked man washed up on a beach covered with diamonds, which are worthless in that country. All he has with him is a bag of onions, which are highly unknown, and therefore highly valuable there. He is rewarded for the onions with a shipload of diamonds. When his brothers go back there with garlic, hoping for more diamonds, they are rewarded with the most valuable thing in the country, a bag of onions!
- When considering why precious stones are precious, Aldus Huxley deduces that it is because they are objects in the external world—along with fire, stained glass, fireworks, pageantry, theatrical spectacle, Christmas tree lights, rainbows, and sunlight—things which most nearly resemble the things that people see in the visionary world. Poets and storytellers, by giving us a mystic vision of these objects with gemlike qualities, bring us into contact with the visionary world and potentially stimulate our own visions within us.
- Stevens says: "How full of trifles everything is! It is only one’s thoughts that fill a room with something more than furniture."
- IMPORTANT: If you have trouble quieting your mind today, you can always go to:www.mediheaven.com where you can be lead through a “rapid relaxation” session. In only four minutes, “you’ll feel like you’re in paradise.” It is free. Of course, you can gain “unlimited access” to increased clarity, purpose, balance, optimism, and energy for only $79.00 US. Onions not accepted.
"It was one of those evenings when men feel that truth, goodness and beauty are one. In the morning, when they commit their discovery to paper, when others read it written there, it looks wholly ridiculous."--Aldous Huxley