I'm still savoring Jane Lockwood's food post from last month. Sadly, the Tom Jones video seems to have been nabbed by the YouTube police and labeled "no longer available." But the memory lingers on my retina, on my tongue and other fun nerve endings.
So when I bought some gorgeous purple-black figs yesterday, I paid them proper attention, perhaps for the first time. I ate one really slowly, really looking at the inside of it, the seeds, the fibrousness, the subtle fleshy pink color of the insides.
It made me think of the word "incarnadine," which I always think of in its blood-stained Lady Macbeth associations, but which, it turns out, according to the OED, has the more primary meaning of the pinkish color of flesh under the skin. The OED gives a wonderful snippet of a Lovelace poem:
Whose white satin upper coat of skin,I've got to find the whole poem.
Cut upon velvet rich incarnadin,
Has yet a body (and of flesh) within
And for the first time, as well, I really thought about D. H. Lawrence's poem, called "Figs," that Jane Lockwood has wisely been trying to call our attention to in various blog-comments over the last year or so. I've always thought of figs as little sacs of seeds -- in Almost a Gentleman, I have Phoebe rolling her tongue around David's balls "as though they were a ripe double fig." But I never really thought about that subtly-colored fibrous inside, what Lawrence writes about as "the flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled."
Lawrence keeps going with the inwardness thing -- getting a little strange, perhaps, about the hiddenness of female sexuality. Still, read the poem. As Shellie once said about Holling on the late lamented TV show, Northern Exposure, it's "got a motor on it."
I guess figs are up there with mussels and oysters, aren't they, as classic erotic food. And pomegranates -- there were pomegranate seeds at the center of the first sexy story I ever read, the myth of Persephone. I couldn't have been more than eight.
Of course at the time, I didn't understand why I kept reading it over and over. Little girl goes out picking flowers, big hot brooding dark guy appears in his big black chariot drawn by four big black steaming frothing horses and steals her away to his gloomy underground hideaway. I guess the message was don't take pomegranate seeds from strangers, little girl -- or you'll go straight to hell, with your big hot brooding dark guy (at eight, I was innocent enough to think that I was the only person in the world who would have wanted to stay with him in Hades).
What makes a food seem sexy? I've been supposing that it's its resemblance to flesh, or to genitalia. But if so, what to we make of the sexiest food of all?
Which is of course the humble, everyday apple. Neither soft nor saclike nor seeded, it's your generic fruit, your basic keep-the-doctor-away nostrum. Perhaps it's the irrevocability of that first crunchy bite that gets everybody's attention. Once you've pierced the bright red or green skin with your teeth, there's no hiding what you've done, no going back.
I like remembering that in The Slightest Provocation, the first food my youthful hero and heroine share is an apple. I wasn't thinking deeply or symbollically about it. One doesn't have to. The cultural resonance has been so obvious, so everpresent, since...
...well, I was going to say "since Eve," but that would've been awfully, parochially, Judeo-Christian of me, wouldn't it? How about since Sappho, of archaic Greece, in the seventh century BC?
And what of this fragment (only fragments Sappho's work survive) translated by the poet and classical scholar Anne Carson, in her book Eros: The Bittersweet:
As a sweet apple turns red on a high branch high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot--well, no they didn't forget--were not able to reach...The syntax is desire itself -- the apple more unreachable as it becomes more precisely articulated. Eros is in the reach, the distance. As Carson says, "The poem is incomplete, perfectly.."
Incomplete, perfectly. I may have repeated that phrase to myself as many times in the last few weeks as I reread the story of Persephone, a whole lot of years ago. I haven't finished reading Eros: The Bittersweet yet. I'm savoring it, like I did that ripe black fig. I'm finding it the most exhilerating and reassuring book about sex and writing that I've read in a really long time -- reassuring for its telling me that I'm not crazy to think that desire can inhere not only in the meanings but the syntax, that eroticism isn't only a matter of ends but of means.
I really don't know what question I should be asking you here -- but it's my birthday today, so I'm not going to knock myself out for one. Maybe something like does any of this stuff mean anything to you or am I really weird and crazy?
But isn't that the question every erotic writer asks all the time?