When Is an Orange More Than an Orange?

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
An orange ready for sharing.
An orange ready for sharing. Credit: Allen Timothy Chang, Wikipedia


Yael Statman

Don’t close the door behind you
The whole house is experiences I haven't shared with you
Here’s where I split an orange among the big kids and the juice
Spritzed onto the parquet – see?
Here’s the crumb corner, between the TV
And the bookshelves, sometimes
Dust as well, and lemon seeds, and fingernail crescents.
Iridescent dish soap stalactites dangle
Strawberry or jasmine scented from the worktop edges,
In the niches between the steps and the wall hang
Hairs, and a picture of us
Opening and closing the door, going out and coming in,
A picture of us going out and coming in
Hanging between times and tenses, past and past perfect. 

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

Welcome to August, the longest of the seven 31-day calendar months. Organized activities for children will shut down during the last two weeks for a fortnight of improvisations, squabbling, television and preparing for the new school year in September. For many families, his also involves moving to a different neighborhood or to a different country before school starts.

Yael Statman, who was born in 1984, grew up in the communal settlement of Hoshaya in the lower Galilee and holds an M.A. in psychology, is in the midst of returning to Israel with her husband and three children after four years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In the poem, the narrator talks not about packing material goods and goodies  but rather intangibles – routines and moments.

Yael StatmanCredit: Yaakov Herskovitz

As simple as it seems, this is sophisticated poetry: The term “metaphor” is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning to transfer or to carry something from one place to another. (In modern Greek the word Metaphores is blazoned on the sides of moving vans.) A poet shares experiences them by moving them elsewhere while keeping them in her possession, and thereby enlarging them. The juicy orange – a fruit that grows in Israel but not in Michigan, though of course it is available there at a cost – is a metaphor for her Israeli past and probably her language, shared with her children also at a cost. The crumbs are crumbs of culture, specifically  “between the TV and the bookshelves” rather than in a more routine place for actual crumbs, say, between the highchair and the toaster.

The final image, repeated twice, is of the couple – or the family – opening and closing the door. How can a visual image show opening and closing happening at the same time?  The poetic image turns a still photograph, or perhaps a child’s drawing, into – the double entendre is inevitable – a moving picture.

“Between times” is the Hebrew phrase, beyn hazmanim – vacation periods in the yeshiva world, notably the summer break now at its peak, a transitional time of enjoyment mixed with anxiety, a physically vulnerable period for ultra-Orthodox young people with little experience of the great outdoors  and also a time of great moral vulnerability. In the poem, too, packing is a “between times” of mixed emotions and states of being, expressed as grammatical tenses.

*Musing: How are the lemon seeds, fingernail crescents and soap stalactites metaphorical?

*Bonus: Mississippi Fred McDowell” “You Gotta Move

Mississippi Fred McDowell: You Gotta Move"Credit: YouTube