When an Orange is a Heck of a Lot More than an Orange – Poems by Jeanette Lynes and Lorna Crozier

What to Make of an Orange

But maybe first I’ll start with banana
as in the joke: Knock knock. Who’s there?
Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there?
Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there?
Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say
banana? And Orange you wondering where this is going
and why? And I’ll tell you why. Orange you glad?
Because I found two poems on an orange,
one quite sad and the other more a mixture, some happy
some sad. A seemingly simple orb, the stories we tell
about it; about us, of course. Two poems to savour
or not. What to do when a loveliness is not enough?
When the sweetness cannot last? Only this: to write
about it. Like Crozier and Lynes. Two poems.
I invite you. Take a bite. Or two. Or more.

Richard Osler, unpublished

Hello. Hello. Almost two months away from my blog. But it’s never been far from my mind and heart. Still recovering from writing thirty-one poems in thirty-one days in January with five others! But now, this one blog on two poems with an orange as the central metaphor by two renowned Canadian poets: Jeanette Lynes, who spent a fair bit of time back east in Nova Scotia teaching at St Francis Xavier and editing the Antigonish Review and now teaches in Saskatoon; and Lorna Crozier a Saskatchewan native now based here on Vancouver Island and no stranger to these blog pages.

Canadian poet Jeanette Lynes, 2015

A few months ago a good poet friend from Halifax suggested I include more poets from her neck of the woods and I was glad of the suggestion with my focus here on the West Coast. Funny though, that when I decided to feature Jeanette Lynes I had not realized she had moved out these ways!

What has struck me with these two poems is how an orange becomes  the central image in the relationships described in these poems yet how differently it is used. And it is not what the orange represents on its own but how it’s meaning is impacted by how the characters in the poem relate to it in their own lives.  The orange in these poems is secondary but my oh my how it adds the emotional punch.  Especially in the Lynes poem.  Orange as the image of pure sorrow! Ouch.  The first line of her poem a text book example of a great first line.

The Inner World of the Orange

It was instructive, they said,
If it made you sad.

Larry Levis

My mother’s most beloved trick: take a simple orange,
turn it into pure sorrow. She did this in the manner
of a spell, a story (the same story over, over). The dark
handkerchief of her words whisked away and presto –
the thirties, a girl whose teeth vibrated with ache, who
walked barefoot in snow or may as well have, soles
that tenuous. Who received in her Christmas sock
each year, only one orange. The story began here –
with her hand rolling its cool pebbled flesh across her cheek
in that farmhouse so bitter she could see her breath.
With her inhaling its sweet citrus rodeo, sketching it
with her last stubby crayon, for posterity. Telling her diary
about the sunny supple star from which it travelled.
Positioning her thumb in its softest point then stopping
to pray for strength to resist. Truth is, this was a girl’s story
more than a saga of peasants rising, stoic,
from their hungers. After all, consider the inner world
of the orange—labial, lush, lost,
utterly lost at the first fissure in its pulpy stockade.
More fallen, even, than the common apple. All this
happened prior to me, making me the sequel
to the orange story—for what loveliness is not
torn open, in the end? So I arrived, the sad
document of a woman’s defeat.

Jeanette Lynes from The New Blue Distance, Wolsak and Wynn, 2009

What a journey Lynes takes us and the orange on! First as a symbol of a woman’s sorrow and bitterness  and then as a shocking image of sex, sex as in  the first fissure in its pulpy stockade.  What a frisson I get with that word fissure.  How it hints at violence in a first sexual experience. And the further suggestion that the narrators mother’s first and not likely good sexual experience ended up with the birth of the narrator. How Lynes uses an orange in such an uxpected way. An image of violation and darkness. And the bitter declarative question: what lovliness is not/ torn open at the end? 

This: what the great poets do. Take an idea or image and turn its on its head. To get at the loveliness of the orange, which I do without thinking, we violate it, rip it open.  Poetry as a practice not for the weak of the heart! Poetry as a wake up call.

Crozier’s poem is disarming in its light hearted sweet tone but it carries a bitter portion as well. But like the bitterness of the rind of an orange it is overwhelmed by the sweetness inside it. That this brief love affair featured in the poem is going to end serves to accentuate the sweetness of its brief joys.

Lorna Crozier reading in Nanaimo, June 2019

Three Oranges in a Red Bowl

Three oranges in a red bowl—and suddenly
you’re in the south of Italy, the sun cupping your bare shoulders
as it does the fruit, the round and ripe of them. You’re young,
you’re in love, so noisy in the bed the night before
the man in the next room shouted, Silenzio, Silenzio!
and you snuck out the door in the early morning, afraid
to meet him in the breakfast room, but the boy you spent the night with
(you say boy though you were both nineteen)
walked tall and proud past all the tables, the buttons of his shirt
undone. The dress you bought later in the Piazza Trieste e Trento,
wasn’t it the same deep red? And the lipstick that made your mouth
Sophia Loren’s. That summer day, nothing around you was about to end,
though riding on the handlebars to meet his mother, you knew
by fall it would be over. She did, too. that’s why
she was kind, touched your face, and called you bella mia.
That’s why the wineglasses on the kitchen shelf caught
what briefly glowed inside you and showed it to the world.
At the wooden table the woman who was his mother chose an orange
and rolled it in a circle under her palm. To make it sweeter, she told you.
Succoso, he said, succoso, as he split the peel with his long thumbs
and placed the segments, one and then
another, between your lips.

Lorna Crozier from The HOUSE the SPIRIT BUILDS, Douglas & McIntyre, 2019

The power of this poem is in its gorgeous visual details. It comes alive with its descriptions, its language, both in English and Italian, and its sheer physicality. This is a poem embodied in the human! And for me its power was demonstrated in such a moving way when Lorna was reading it in Nanaimo months ago. When Lorna arrived at the point of the description of the mother rolling the orange to make it sweeter she had to stop and gather herself. The emotion revealled in those words became too much.  Time stopped for us in the audience, Lorna and the poem suspended in a liminal place. When Lorna started again I felt as if I could feel the audience release its collective breath.

Two evocative poems by two of Canada’s great poets. So much to chew on in both of them. Couldn’t resist the pun. Sorry!

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