Saturday, October 24, 2009

Margaret A & oranges

A is for Atwood. (She's currently traveling the world promoting her latest marvel, Year of the Flood.)

Things have been absurdly full-on lately. 

If we were to describe life as a theatre and us as players, well... suffice to say that just about everyone I know is having a challenging time of it right now. It feels as though we're being repeatedly asked to strip ourselves bare, to question our value systems, inspect old adages and safety nets. At times like this, human impulse can lead us to run for the dressing-up box or the attic room. Or perhaps to dig for answers in the garden. (I've done a bit of each lately.) While this description is in no way adequate for what's happening for people on both an intimate and grand scale right now, it's a tiny indication as to where my head and heart have been lately. (And might explain why my blog posting's been a bit thin on the ground...) 

Last night I stayed up later than I should have, re-re-re-reading Eating Fire. (This is one of several volumes of poetry that live beside my bed. I pull 'Margaret' into bed with me often. She inspires me both to want to write more and to stop writing altogether. Both effects are catalyzing.) 

On a prosaic note, last weekend I made Caramelized Oranges for a birthday banquet (recipe follows at end of post) and mid-mouthful, remembered Margaret's poem Against Still Life. Here it is for your pleasure -

Against Still Life

Orange in the middle of a table:

It isn't enough
to walk around it
at a distance, saying
it's an orange:
nothing to do
with us, nothing
else: leave it alone

I want to pick it up
in my hand
I want to peel the
skin off; I want
more to be said to me
than just Orange:
want to be told
everything it has to say

And you, sitting across
the table, at a distance, with
your smile contained, and like the orange
in the sun: silent:

Your silence
isn't enough for me
now, no matter with what
contentment you fold
your hands together; I want
anything you can say
in the sunlight:
stories of your various
childhoods, aimless journeyings,
your loves; your articulate
skeleton; your posturings; your lies.

These orange silences
(sunlight and hidden smile)
make me want to
wrench you into saying;
now I'd crack your skull
like a walnut, split it like a pumpkin
to make you talk, or get
a look inside

But quietly:
if I take the orange
with care enough and hold it

I may find
an egg
a sun
an orange moon
perhaps a skull; center
of all energy 
resting in my hand

can change it to
whatever I desire
it to be

and you, man, orange afternoon
lover, wherever
you sit across from me
(tables, trains, buses)
if I watch 
quietly enough
and long enough
at last, you will say
(maybe without speaking)

(there are mountains
inside your skull
garden and chaos, ocean
and hurricane; certain 
corners of rooms, portraits
of great-grandmothers, curtains
of a particular shade;
your deserts; your private
dinosaurs; the first

all I need to know:
tell me
just as it was
from the beginning.

From Selected Poems I: Poems Selected and New 1965-1975 by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1987 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. 


What can one possibly add to that - except, perhaps, a bowlful of bright, syrupy circles...

Here then is the recipe... these last for days in the fridge and are best accompanied by loved ones, jazz and thick Greek yoghurt.

Caramelized Oranges 

8 medium juicy oranges
225gm castor sugar
2 Tblspns Cointreau (or whisky or brandy - alcohol optional) 

* Thinly pare the rind from half the oranges and cut into very thin julienne strips.  
* Place in a small saucepan and cover with water. 
* Cook till tender (5 mins or so). Drain and rinse under cold water.

Cut away pith from the oranges, slice into thin rounds and arrange in a serving dish (reserve any juice). 
* Place sugar and 300ml water in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently till the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil till caramel-coloured. (Watch it carefully at this stage as the syrup can change from caramelized to burnt very quickly)

* Remove the pan from the heat, add 3 Tblspns water (there will be much joyous  sputtering). 

* Scatter rind over the oranges and drizzle the caramel syrup into the dish. 

* Chill overnight, or at least for a few hours. 


For those wondering why I've not been corresponding at my usual rate or via my usual media... All is well; I'll be back in that particular saddle soon. 


  1. Study of Two Pears

    Opusculum paedagogum.
    The pears are not viols,
    Nudes or bottles.
    They resemble nothing else.

    They are yellow forms
    Composed of curves
    Bulging toward the base.
    They are touched red.

    They are not flat surfaces
    Having curved outlines.
    They are round
    Tapering toward the top.

    In the way they are modeled
    There are bits of blue.
    A hard dry leaf hangs
    From the stem.

    The yellow glistens.
    It glistens with various yellows,
    Citrons, oranges and greens
    Flowering over the skin.

    The shadows of the pears
    Are blobs on the green cloth.
    The pears are not seen
    As the observer will.

    -Wallace Stevens

  2. Thank you for this post, Claire, and for your blog. I doubt I'll make the oranges but I will keep coming back to read what you have to say. I have just spent a lovely 45 mins looking through your past posts and I feel glutted now with your astonishing [and I use that word advisedly] words and images. Who needs oranges?

  3. Hello LD - thanks for WS's terrific pear poem. I must admit, I like the idea that 'things' (be they pears, people, songs, everyday objects... ) are entirely themselves, that 'they resemble nothing else.' This immediately imbues everything with a simple and profound originality.

    Mary - you are very generous to say this, thank you. I have been gorging similarly on your blog and will leave you a message there to say as much. Your thought-provoking posts and supportive comments highlight community and remind me of the connections we have - and can make - out here in this alternate (and no less real) landscape.