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Derived from Old French pome grenate: pome for apple and grenate, having many seeds. And there is also Latin: grantus, granum, grain, seed.
This skin of a pomegranate is like tissue, the inside of the body, like blood clotting. Soft tissue. At least twenty-seven different hues of red. Or any other number, perhaps it is more. Pomegranate red when a lip is bitten, the inside of the mouth--soft tissues of the mouth. The fruit's body is deformed, rough, parched. Gentle dents, the kind found upon a child's skull--the way the cranial bones fuse together. Parched, callused: I think of browning manuscripts in libraries; I think of hands.
I have one here I am trying to dry, letting it shrivel, concave upon itself. I am letting the dark, damp seeds inside wither. I place it in the fall of the sun, beneath my window. The pomegranate fits my hand, my palm that agrees to the rises and slopes of the fruit. My fingers curling across the indentations, uneven red ground.
When Demeter, the goddess of the earth, lost her daughter Persephone, she made winter. The god of the underworld, pale Hades, saw the beautiful child (one can never help with whom they fall in love) and from his chariot he clasp the girl, descending into his dark land. He would have said I loved her because she was so light. Upon the earth the people were confused by the new cold and still Demeter refused spring until her daughter was returned. The other gods demanded of Hades the release of Persephone.
In that dark land, soil as sky and all creatures a languid shade of gray, Persephone ate of a pomegranate. She ate six seeds and those small seeds, Hades' artifice, bound her to him for six months of the year, always. And so she rose to Demeter and still must return again to her melancholy groom, every year the same footsteps, the same chariot of black horses.
Pomegranate beneath the soil, a muted shade of gray and seeds also a color she did not recognize. Pomegranate, which is regarded as food for the dead.
I learned this fruit's story: pomegranate's origins in Iran, in the Himalayas. Later certain travelers carried its seeds on their journeys across the Mediterranean. It now claims many lands: India, Southeast Asia, the East Indies, tropical Africa.
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I studied the fruit's many names:
Balegal, with a skin pale pink,
Cloud, a greener red,
Early Wonderful, with flowers that shifting color of fire,
Francis, from Jamaica,
Granada, which is in Spanish the word for pomegranate,
Home, it says: "some bitterness,"
King, "has a tendency to split"
Phoenicia, also Fenecia,
Wonderful, its birth in California 1896, it says: "deep purple red."
There was one pomegranate tree on my grandparents' ranch of redwoods and Spanish moss, poison oak. It was a small tree, twisting and curling within a damp planter. It stood on the right side of the garden, behind a small bridge that led to the oleander and then to the pool. Oleander which we must never eat and the small bridge over no water, over pebbles that moved like rusted bells when we walked on them.
My grandmother killed gophers in the lawn by drowning them within their burrows or forcing them upward to the sharp jaw of her gray dog. The deer rarely moved towards the house from the orchard. Already they had plum and five kinds of apple and pear.
Barefoot, I would sit in the soft dirt of the planter under the leaves of the pomegranate tree. I was naked, of course, my small shapeless body that could race the other gray dog, which became part wolf in my mind. I split the crimson skin with my teeth, boring a hole and peeling off the stiff skin. And then there were those dark seeds, surrounded by the minute wet tissue, the plant's own ovaries, separated by spongy, white membranes, bitter coating. I ate the seeds by scraping them out with the edges of my teeth, teeth that have since been lost and placed under pillows. I sucked apart or pulled apart, fingered the seeds--unaware that pomegranates mark death and fertility.
Or so they say.
The best way to eat a pomegranate is naked or in the rain.
In Hebrew it is rimmon.
And they made upon the hem of the robe pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet and twined linen. And they made bells of pure gold and put the bells between the pomegranates upon the hem of the robe, round about the pomegranates.
Because my mother could not stand to have only the city, one so far from her parents' ranch of deep trees many states away, my parents found a farm when I was nine. And now eleven years we have worked with it--it is our work in progress, cutting back resolute wild roses and grapevines which choke the oak trees, hosing away wasp nests, pulling up stakes of barbed wire from the farmers that lived here before. Often it is just my family that travels here, by car, two hours on the highway from the city but for this weekend in late fall numerous relatives and friends arrive, traveling from opposite oceans.
Tonight the sun is setting and beyond the silhouette of leafless trees, the sky is so many colors. I do not want to think that out here pollution has reached so far that the distortion, the visible splendor, is anything but natural particles of dust and sky reflecting light.
At the farm all the trees have lost their leaves except for a few, whose leaves curl like paper bags, crumble with the sound of paper bags folding roughly. There is minor snow on the ground, a small layer like the skim churning on milk that has gotten too hot. On the airplane the child sitting behind me could not be convinced that the snow on the ground was snow. It looked too fragile. It could not be snow, she reasoned at six or four--the age that she was--that it could not be snow because she could peel it off like lettuce. Like lettuce she said.
Early Wonderful, with flowers that shifting color of fire.
Tonight the sky above the farm is filled with unnatural colors. This morning I watched a redheaded woodpecker climb upside down the crabapple tree. We have drilled holes into a branch and have filled that branch with peanut butter and birdseed. Do you ever believe I shall get used to these colors I said of the bird's brilliant red head. I said it to the woods but instead Rafa answered. He said I know. We did not know the sky tonight would be so unnaturally fuchsia and magenta, red like blisters revealed and red like the bodies of mussels.
Rafa is the son of my mother's first boyfriend, a man that came before my father. Rafa moved from Madrid for a year to study architecture in this city so famous for Frank Lloyd Wright and harsh silver buildings that scrape the sky. He is gentler than what the city can offer him. I watch when he turns the pages in his sketchbook. The drawings are fluid, sometimes in colors but often only in ink. He draws people with round heads and round bodies, limbs that are straight lines and features that are straight lines or curves or dots. My parents watch over Rafa since his own are so far away. They call him to cook in our house, to come to draw pictures at the farm. He is not part of my family and yet for a year he has his own small place with us. Rafa comes to the farm where there are no buildings, just one structure of wood for eighty acres, which is ours, and a barn. In the summer Rafa gets lost in the cyclic hum of the lawnmower and cuts the grass for hours. We stop him before he cuts down the tall stalks of barley that belong to the farmer. In late fall, when the snow is like a thin peelable layer of milk, Rafa grinds tomatoes and cuts thick slices of bread and the dough still has not risen in the center. We eat the soft bread, which is not yet bread, and it expands within us. I am not attracted to him but I think of what would happen if I crawled downstairs in the night, stepping on the outer edges of the stairs so there would be no sound. I wonder as he sleeps downstairs, because all the beds are full, sleeping by the fireplace with ashes hissing, what would pass if I climbed in the blankets beside him. If I crawled out before anyone else came downstairs. I am not attracted to him, though there are thick words from Spain and gray eyes that do not look at me when we talk.
These are stories we hoard and store, align inside. The small membranes of forgetting rooms, red membranes for secrets, unsaid words, and thoughts reserved for the lover. Thoughts reserved for the daughter and the child, the granddaughter, sister, niece, friend. Daughter, child, lover in a peelable skin, words separated by soft tissue: the places that collide and often should and often should not. Forgetting rooms and the pleatings of memories. The small stories collected within us, the creation of a gathering.
Home, it says: "some bitterness"
Rafa is at the farm and so are many: parents, brothers, cousins, daughters, grandparents, friends who are artists, friends who are antique collectors. Two parents--one who makes a bonfire in the night so ashes cling to the air and the other who sits on the floor with back and feet pressing into a doorframe. There are three cousins whose lives I do not know, who smoke cigarettes behind the barn, embraced in their supposed furtiveness. One grandmother who cannot speak, the other who places my hair in pin curls, brushing the hair with her fingers. One grandfather in an emerald green jacket and pants exposing his veined shins who says I told your grandmother the best thing about coming today would be seeing how radiantly beautiful you have become; the other with legs to my shoulders who makes faces when being stared at.
How radiantly beautiful you have become. And I said to him I only wish you were a boy my age, laughing.
The words we choose to form a coat around, twine them like a spider throwing silk over its rounded meal. Winding and curling and twisting, the slow process of creation--the delicate parts of creation, where we shape the words, the words we hoard and the ones we leave behind. Ones that bruise, ones rejected.
Betty, Trish, Edward, John: the names they had before they became grandparents, parents even. Perhaps there are times when they are startled by hearing the name, realizing it is their own.
In Korea the pomegranate tree: Sokryu.
In Thailand a branch is cut from a pomegranate tree and placed in water. When someone returns from a funeral the wet branch is tapped against them to wash off the evil spirits that follow--the confused phantoms that wander back to the homes where they believe they should still belong.
There was a time when I had to kill a bat. It was my last year of school and a black cat had chosen my room as its temporary home. My roommate and I called her Basta, which, inevitably, became Pasta. We did not know her history; we did not own her. She came to stay in our room, the doors of which opened onto hills lined with pepper trees and foxtail. We were the last building before the wild hills, the blue mountains in the distance. Basta brought home tiny mutilated creatures. We learned this after a pile grew beneath our beds. We left the door open at nights. We did not know her history, her habits.
And one night a small velvet creature was still alive with wings torn apart and head lopped sideways, held on by fragmented ligaments. I screamed because I could not use my hands, simple motion to undo filaments of connective tissue. I could not use my hands so I placed it shuddering onto the ground--the creature who sees its flight through sound, undulating and lucid waves of sound. On the ground I drew up a stone, above my head, my elbows pulling outwards into the night, and I released the stone. I did not lift it again; I placed my foot to the rock and twisted the ankle--that the dirt would erase small velvet animals. And Basta was there grinning beside me, in her yellow eyes the stories of small night creatures.
Here are stories we roll into small organisms: pliant buried bodies. Bones and roots in the dirt. The quiet slumber of insects in the earth. I do not remember--the stories I fold and compress, that are not returned for they have nowhere to go in here, within me. They wait to become peelable.
Words that make it more than skin and seed and dark bitter juice:
The Israel Museum recently acquired a thumb-sized ivory pomegranate, 43 mm. high. Its body is vase-shaped and it has a long neck with six elongated petals. The body is solid with a small, rather deep hole in the base, probably for the insertion of a rod. Around the shoulder of the pomegranate is an incised inscription in paleo-Hebrew script, part of which is missing. It was, however, possible to reconstruct the missing word based on the surviving text and biblical evidence. The inscription reads: sacred donation for the priests of the house of [Yahwe]h. This pomegranate is the only known relic associated with the Temple built by King Solomon on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. According to its paleographic style, the inscription dates to the mid-8th century BCE.
Words ascribed and stored, stolen, created. Ivory that delivers a stamen, an oval body because the fruit it mimics is not a fruit but beauty and fertility and death, telling those quiet spirits to learn their new world.
My mother sent to me three pomegranates, settled in styrofoam within a brown box. Three pomegranates:
I ate the first pomegranate in the rain. I peeled it with my teeth and stained my chin. The only way to eat a pomegranate is naked or in the rain. I gave a section to my friend and she said in her dream the crescent moon tumbled from the sky.
Did you ever notice how much the seeds are like jewels? she asked.
I gave the second to another friend. I placed it on the edge of her sink, the corner between the drop to the floor and the smooth arch of the basin.
The third I am trying to dry. I am letting the seeds inside shrink and shake off their dark moisture. I set it in the sun, before the window.
The seeds of each thought, each dream that lodges itself with small insect wings. Peelable, peelable. The strange red fruit, bitter and enveloped seed we roll into memory. Small holding memory. The seed smoothed, beating, shuddering with words, trembling words, soft-shelled words. Peelable. Pomegranate: pome for apple; French. Grenate for many seeds; French.
The tree--where beneath it a young girl, who lost her clothes with purpose, sat collecting and stripping the red fruit skin with her bare teeth. Cross-legged she sat, picking the seeds, sucking their red pulpy bodies, staining her face and fingers. Each seed swallowed and swallowed. Making herself peelable, each word she swallowed. Her heart opening, creating the soft bone creature. Seed by seed, forming the pomegranate.