Cixous sat at the kitchen table, her mind transfixed
by the orange in hand.
A man and a woman stood behind her, bickering.
“What is love?” and “Who was to blame?” they asked me,
throwing suspicious glances at my mass,
in all its enormity. I wasn’t going to
eat the orange. At least, I wasn’t planning to.
I had gone out searching for you
by moonlight, wanting a
changed course of time. One easier
not to repeat. I became impossible on nights like these,
clenched my fists and wore my legs out
to an empty place—further.
No, it’s not what you think.
Not that I was terribly lost, searching
for my beloved. No male or female
would dare touch me.
I only wanted an answer. I only wanted
the answer, but
my tongue was a dry rope
and speech tugged at the lung.
Cixous dug a fingernail into
the thick skin of the orange. It bled
and I wet my mouth with that citrusy spray.
I had found myself (on the twelfth of October,
no less) on the edge of a forest.
The coniferous trees stood in concentric circles,
with the most nubile shrubs positioned
on the outer ring.
I had waded through those monumental evergreens
to the cabin, like Columbus wading ashore.
The telephone rang. Cixous, looking startled,
reached to answer it.
The orange rolled off the table
and, with a thud, landed on the floor.
I wanted to snatch up the fruit
and run my tongue across its broken beads of pulp,
before bits of vital insides could ooze onto the linoleum.
But, the orange was turning gray.
Someone had called with bad news.
A young woman
—a friend of Cixous’ or maybe a friend of a friend—
had died in some other part of the world,
somewhere oranges had once grown
on trees that were so badly bombed and burned
they no longer bore fruit.
Author’s Note: “Cixous’ Orange” is an homage to Hélène Cixous and her story of how her contemplation of an orange, as a metaphor for life and the Other, was interrupted by a call reminding her of the suffering of women in Iran. The multilayered symbolism of October 12th, the date Columbus “discovered” America, references the date Cixous provides for her discovery of Clarice Lispector, as mentioned by Elena Carrera in “The Reception of Clarice Lispector via Hélène Cixous: Reading from the Whale’s Belly.” The structure and content of the poem draw from Julia Kristeva’s paradoxical model of language, which examines the systematization of language, as a methodical attempt to understand Woman, while acknowledging a lack of language that represents Woman’s inexplicability. Woman, in the context of the poem, is an amalgamation of how French feminist theorists have understood her; she is a social construct, searching for her own identity; and she is what the reader makes of her. This literary exploration of interconnections between Woman, cyclical time, nature, language, and the Orange reverberates through feminist ethical and moral discourse on power, performativity, and political action.
Photo credit to Danielle R. Strandson.