Lemons, 1984 by Donald Sultan
Latex paint, plaster, and butyl rubber on vinyl tile over masonite
We all begin as a seed. An idea even, thought up by minds formed within the hands of the world. And what an ugly world it is, if not for the sweetness that lies beneath the surface, within the dew drops of Monday mornings at dawn, and found at the bottom of vintage diner coffee mugs. Yet this sweetness is bitter, as it is corressed by the never ending days and nights that we find ourselves in, forming together, a life that we may never truly grasp or understand.
Italian poet Eugenio Montale describes a lemon field as a place where “miraculous pain is turned to pleasure” and “the sounds of war are silenced,” in his 1925 poem “Limoni”. Europe, a battleground at this point would not be escapable if it weren’t for the lemon trees of the Italian coast, where “even the poorest...can have riches,” according to Montale.
The bitterness of a world we grow within, and grow to change, can rub off on some. The happiness of the world can only be found amongst the trees in lemon groves, where bitterness is at least covered with the color of the sun, and the texture of skin. I’ve always loved the look of lemons, and have always found lemon tree’s to be beautiful. As I hiked the trails between Manarola and Monterroso in Cinque Terre on Italy’s western coast, I found myself witnessing lemon trees within the natural world for the first time in my life. Their sweetness in the air, bordering the ancient cobblestone roads, slanted on rolling hills, touching the cold blue water of the Meditteranean Sea. My head, truly against the clouds, passing through small villages, with the depths of the sea beneath me, could always be reminded of safety when lemon trees met my tired feet at the bottom of the mountain. They remind me of sharpness against my tongue, bandaged with the soft smell of limoncello, and Chanel No.5 perfume, in which Italian lemons are a main ingredient.
Again, we all begin as seeds, with sex as our creator. A passionate entrance of an unknown subject to a world that may spit them back out again, just as a man may spit out the seeds of a lemon from his mouth. The lemon, in appearance, looks unbelievably sweet, blocking out darkness, and forming with its counterparts, squishing together in beloved harmony. This is the creation of human happiness. This is in a way, sex. However, one may embrace the lemon as a tartness of the world, splitting its skin into slices, sucking it until flavorless, their eyes quickly pinching shut.
Is it true that good things only feel “good” because of the human experience of badness, of pain, of evil? If I woke up every morning to a smile from the face of the earth staring through my window, I may never understand the true pleasure of it, the absolute beauty of waking up next to a lovely face. If the earth scowled at me, as a stranger on the street might, or a disgruntled employee ending their closing shift might, I know I would crave a smile. Against a rigid darkness, I also crave a smile, as I'm sure most people would. I look for peace on rainy days, and light within caves. I long for honey in my tea, and lemon to bite my face. For there is a richness in lemons, a luxury in their essence, and a sexual nature that wraps its arms tightly around me, and squeezes.
Did you know that lemon juice can remove stains from pots and pans, and that it can make glass extra sparkly, and that it can kill bacteria on wooden kitchen utensils? It also can shoo away insects, and deodorize the garbage disposal. There are many uses for lemons, including being a source of reflection. Lemons are a backhanded joke between a person and their troubles. With a good lemon we can embrace goodness, laugh at bitterness, and ignore the issues we deal with. All for less than a dollar at the grocery store.
When I grow up, I don’t want to be an artist. I don’t want to be a teacher, or a lawyer, or a government official. I want to grow up to be a lemon. I want my seed to grow strong into a trunk, split into branches and let its lemons drop. They are the bittersweetness that makes the world fresh, and the light that lines our path, while also tasting both amazing as sorbet and as ice cream.