“Wooden Bowl of Spangled Fruit” came about through the intersection of a writing exercise, an acting exercise, a snow day, and dusting. The snow day offered up an unexpected morning to write, as well as the quiet erasure of the outside world that would become the background of the poem. I was also happily under the influence of Mark Doty’s wonderful book about objects and looking, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, and so decided to really look at a still life in my own world to see what drew me in and what looked back.
Years ago, I had been given a collection of beaded, bejeweled fruit in a hand-hewn wooden bowl. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the two and how the primitive container gave gravitas to the gaudy, useless fruit. I plunked it down in front of me and looked. And looked. I remained outside, observing. I began to handle the pieces, then, being a multitasker, decided that as long as I wasn’t writing, I might as well dust and clean them up.
I am an actor— a term I use rather than actress in the same way I say poet, not poetess, but that’s another topic—and I often apply skills developed as an actor to writing. Many actors learn to practice what we call sense memory: how to recollect and recreate physical objects and sensations by focusing on texture, form, sound, smell, on any and all of the physical senses. This is precisely what I did as I held each apple, pear, plum. I stopped thinking about fruit and juxtaposition in favor of sharp, silver, fractured, gleam, and allowed the real conversation between observer and observed to begin. I found the first door into the poem through the cheap green plastic stem; it opened directly into childhood’s first world and my older brother’s army men. The poem was off—with its exploration of violence and savagery, real, imaginary, sublimated; surface beauty, shine, and shimmer; piercing, torture, and the gloriousness of bling with its sexiness and dazzle. I wrote about the bowl too, in its absolute plainness, but it didn’t make the final cut, and for that I have BPJ to thank. The spangled fruit had taken front and center stage.
I framed the poem with waiting, specifically with awaiting test results and the implication of bad news. The slightest bit of narrative gives me footing in a poem, another lesson I learned from theatre. So many thoughts, memories, and imaginings had trafficked between me and the objects before me that I felt time expand in the way it does when circumstances force us to face our mortality. While I was revising, two friends telephoned, each awaiting calls with potentially devastating news, so I allowed that to directly enter the poem. Still life is also called nature morte. A moment in time held, captured, even as time rushes past us while we look. Even as we glimpse how much each moment holds. Even as snow falling outside erases everything.