THERMOS 2: Alex Walton

Alex Walton’s poem with oranges has always seemed like a gift to me, something handed over after lunch and thereafter always available at just the right moment. — AS


New Oranges

Does each orange contain a mite? Or more than
one? How many mites form a colony? Is there a particular
“orange mite” and what are its adaptations? How long
is gestation? What is a gestation? Is this a salutation?
A diversion? What are the nourishing effects of the “Spanish
Orange?” What is the most superior recipe for marmalade? And
are all of these true oranges, or are some of them fakes?
(Trompe l’oeil increases the amount of reality in the world. No?
Or something else entirely?) What is the lifespan of the mite
compared with the orange? Do the mites have names? Do the mites
have a name? According to the sign, this mite has been named for
Otto von Bismarck – it is the Bismarck Mite. It is special to Austria
but here it is, in Spain. Some animals are migratory; some
are not. A magnet in your brain is one good reason to travel,
providing both an initial impulse and a guiding influence.
One may also travel in the name of unrequited love, where requition
is withheld at least in part by insufferable distance – insufferable distance
is different than impartable closeness. The latter is the case
of Romeo and Juliet, and Tristan und Isolde as well as in stories
of divine passion for the human stuff, and in Roman Holiday.
And it can rarely be overcome, since the lovers
are victims of “circumstance” which is not
surmountable by transportation—e.g., a sea plane
plus alpine skiing, or a brisk walk across
interceding hills— Transportation takes many forms,
and though it is not a distinct sign of “human difference,” since even rabbits
have been known to form crude snowshoes, and I have one time
seen a zebra ride another zebra for a number of miles,
certainly the internal combustion engine, and roller skates
are sufficiently peculiar to provoke a state of agitated interest,
in pursuit of some evidence of our own pecularity as a form of
“beast”; certainly the pogo stick is a sign, in us, of beauty
due to some great excess in the proportion (probably
of the brain, though perhaps of the esophagus, larynx, or spine)
which is a formula of Poe explaining, unintentionally,
why the golden rectangle is inherently more pleasing and
“popular” than the square, though the square
may be more “perfect,” the division of its side lengths
resulting in no sprawling fraction. The awake and literate may
take Poe to be contradicted by the recently
produced fact that according to the average opinion
(normalized for some strangeness in the statistical proportion)
more faces averaged together, “composited,”
into a single face, result in a face more of us
would love to love. And yet, a truth doubles back! Since the Lover’s face
suddenly visible across a sea of hors d’oeuvres and other faces
or the sense of it or the sound of its voice across a literal sea
of other things entirely (sailors, blue crabs giant squid, uncharted islands)
seems effective directly by its opposition to those other people
and things which intercede, for which one’s hair does not consistently
stand on end, nor stomach fill with what P.G. Wodehouse
called the intolerable screaming of the butterflies.
But some mysteries remain, and several thrilling. To be clear,
“unsufferable distance” is better refracted through the Odyssey,
at least from the perspective of Penelope. Another story, entirely,
may occur for Odysseus, since his own cargo, being bound up
to the washed mast of his heart, is borne everywhere but Ithaca;
but one may ascribe to him a virile kind of homeward
magnetism, similar to what is found in birds, and yet
to do so may be disingenuous to that brave scientist
who picked first apart the small magnetic node
of neurons in the birdbrain which compassed
swallows homeward—call it the “ferrule.” Call it
the little carrier. To travel even for the sake
of a good fruit may be valuable, since oranges may
be plucked from the tree without great damage
to it: in fact, a pleasing thing is to eat fruit, since it proposes both use
and delight but no great harm for Nature;
since for someone to carry the seeds is the most honest purpose
of a tree’s fruit— To be carried out into the world! In order, each thing
is carried by another, and maybe it is closer to home, then. Bismarck
Mites may be carried to Spain, which is not their home; their home is Austria;
“Who knows if this red string is ‘home’ in this nest—
maybe it was more at home in the ball of yarn!”
This is not a statement on aesthetics (not of the bird,
and not of the yarn) but on the way we see ourselves projected
out. “Look, this tree has a sense of home. It stays put.” No,
a tree is not migratory! “My love of home is a tree, then. My love of coming
home is a bird, then.” Well, perhaps. But I am ever
venturing somewhere unfamiliar—a territory, a Boston Tea Party. Out into the world
I say I have gone to get a new roll of tape, or “Surely
the hardware shop can sell me the new blade for this saw,
and so will I put an end to the stubborn tree.”
or “A new life awaits me in Austria or Kirkuk or
the Polar Ice Cap— I have only to seize it.” (Perhaps
this last is left on a note.) Like that, I have gone to get
new oranges. As these mites are carried off
into the universe by the oranges for no reason other
than the indiscriminate love of a live thing for every other
shaking and variously lightning-struck animated cell
I am bringing these oranges, which are the new oranges, home,
or towards home. They contain the Bismarck or perhaps
the von Bismarck mite; which it is, I have forgotten, but
I believe the mites will not endanger your body or soul
but may perhaps enlarge in you the possibility
of (at least) parallel universes in which not exactly but nearly
this occurs, perhaps the same words in a different order,
and even that world may be filled with doubters
and the great cosmic sneer of sarcasm
which even in this our own world, vast American
persons are needed to fix; which I am coming quickly now
towards fixing. Here: a sign,
explaining that it is not too far off,
and in fact since I am running, it will not be so long.
To know mathematics is a worthwhile pursuit
since it allows one to formulate the world into knowns
and unknowns, and unknowable unknowns,
and even to rank infinites, which is a superhuman
task. In truth (continues the sign) amid all this fact
what is needed today is a beauty not of the averaged
face at all, and a sweetness and light
not to be found in the heavy world of fact,
but something else completely.
And for that, there are these oranges.


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