By Joanna ES Campbell
“Oh, I’m thinking about something that Fru Ashild once said,” replied Kristin. “I was only a child back then. But it was something about good days being granted to sensible people, but the grandest of days are enjoyed by those who dare to act unwisely.” Kristin Lavransdatter, pg. 181
I jab the pointy ends of cloves into orange flesh. A finger condom protects the tip of my thumb, too easily harmed by the repeated motion of tiny spears. I decorate the fruit in spirals – dots – constellations – lines and little maps. The fruit will rot, yes? Or slowly dry out – will mold, too – not sure why though – but many will dessicate – the cloves play a role, yes? And the ripe orange becomes a shriveled aromatic – a kind of defeated testicle – so light and delicate on my window sill.
I would never do that to my stomach.
Cottonwood lined rivers can make us do dangerous things, especially around the bend of rock faces, blown to bits long ago by the railroad. Alpine air whips through the canyon, and your mind plays tricks – the body fills with boozy liquid – rising from your toes and you think (is there thinking involved?) that a kiss on his wind-burned cheek would be okay. Or the lips. Even in adulthood, wisdom can flake away like glints of mica.
Cedar boughs and sinuous rivers – freshly pulled root vegetables have taunted me down – desire – want. Sometimes our surroundings conspire to entrance us no matter the cautionary tales – the prudence from our mothers, literature, even the guilty pleasures of Lifetime movies.
Temptation has never occurred indoors – it’s always outside. Always the land. Even through tall windows framing a forest.
Words and letters and orchids can make us lose our senses.
Our own dreams and beautiful hearts cushion something precious within – the folds of my interior tummy, biopsied, a tiny growth plucked for science.
I feel different about what I eat after my doctor hands me color photographs of my stomach. A small cave of wet bubblegum. And though acids wreak havoc, my insides are…what is the word? Beautiful? No. Inflamed, yes but also, and quite surprisingly, Dear. Dear like a two-year-old playing naked in the sand, beaming with wonder at the three-foot circumference of her world – the broken pearly underbellies of rough pen shells waiting for discovery.
The insides of my thighs are dark from chaffing, skin loose, underarms sagging, my vagina known by more than I’d prefer – stretch marks tattoo my body, but my stomach – entirely different. My dear stomach has somehow remained sweet – innocent – intact. I now want to give my stomach the long lost greetings it deserves full or heart-shaped cards and chocolate kisses.
Wishful and pink and shiny – tender and vulnerable – the photos reveal the kind of plump folds cooed over. This place inside me, known by resilience despite broken hearts, depression, hospitals – fearless lack of perspective – the lies and countless reckless decisions. A place that has ached, yes, and fretted and feared but somehow, unbeknownst to me, remained protected – wrapped in a warm blanket – never wanting for long.
There’s a crevice inside my chest cavity still easily fingered by bad actors. I trip on thoughts that grace is a destination, a hike I must persevere rather than a free gift. Really, why is it so hard to occupy grace when we royally fuck up? Or when we simply fuck up in a run-of-the-mill sort of way? When we’re simply living, and yes, trying to reflect and learn and grow, and yet still, our hearts are blown off course. (I assume there is a course.)
Through no fault of our own, eating is our most intimate act. I can’t remember who originated this idea – Hippocrates? Lao Tzu? Michael Pollan? Through no fault of our own, brain chemistry and culture collide. I read somewhere that I can forgive my past by having a sense of humor.
February is a funny month because I crave pink, soft things, pretty things. Pink is not my signature color – I’m not a pink person – not because of Valentines, though I have no complaints there. Chilled sunshine, bare branches, and moonlit snow make me want pink, to be a little girl I never was – kind and poised – beckoning to become something I never could be – clean and tidy – freshly scented – risk averse and sensible. Peppermint candles, a pink duvet, cherry blossoms – stripes and ribbons, lip gloss, sparkly rings – a tsunami of pink arrives each winter, a kind of liturgical season, and, in truth, more akin to renewal than a life paralyzed by perfection, a life I’ve never known. I welcome the ritual with curiosity, with glee. I was not born with a skittish heart, and now I see my stomach is the most perfect pink of all – year round – always there, always present. Still.
Joanna ES Campbell holds an M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. Her checkered past includes teaching ecological literature and land ethics in the Wilderness & Civilization Program at the University of Montana; organizing statewide heirloom tomato festivals; and graduating high school by the skin of her teeth. She is the undefeated 1986 jump rope champion of her elementary school in which she peaked athletically. Her writing can be found in various guest blogs and anthologies as well as Farming Magazine, Art House America, Arkansas Review, Process Philosophy for Everyone, Relief, and Orion Magazine. She is co-author of the book, Taste and See: Experiences of God’s Goodness Through Stories, Poems, and Food, as Seen by a Mother and Daughter. Joanna lives on Petit Jean Mountain in central Arkansas where she putters with her husband on eleven wooded acres. She is currently writing a lyrical memoir drawn from her experiences of wilderness and community in North America. Follow her blog at joannaescampbell.com