“My father liked very ripe fruit, so whenever one of us found an overripe pear, we would feed it to him,” writes Natalia Ginzburg in The Family Lexicon. “Ah, so give me your rotten pears! What real idiots you are! she said with a laugh that reverberated throughout the apartment, and then she ate the pear in two bites.
It feels: the almost alcoholic impression that a very ripe pear leaves between the throat and the lungs, more like a smell than a taste. It’s what makes a pear drop a pear. It’s what makes you feel like you’ve inhaled the pear, which a moment ago was a fruit in a dark gold paint, then gone.
But there is evidence: the stem, which reminds you that the fruit once weighed a branch in a heavy orchard, something happened to move that weight from the ground to the trees, back down again, the pear seems to weigh itself. down with that shape, a drop of water falling back to the ground.
The word pear comes from the vulgar Latin word pyre. In biology class we learned that the hard parts, especially on a green pear, are called sclereid bundles or stone cells. We looked at them under the microscope, focusing the lens until the fuzzy dots turned into thin lines: dead cells with thick walls.
Sometimes (especially when I’m hungover) I feel like my mind is a microscope, zooming in and out, from the simplest explanation to the most complicated. Let’s have a debate, announce someone in there, and start. Perhaps the explanation is this, but it could equally be this: No, no, dear friend, it is clear that this – No sir, your reasoning, like your Latin, is vulgar! It doesn’t go anywhere, I don’t settle for an answer, but it doesn’t feel like a waste of time either. It feels like playing an old computer game. Sounds like chiptune.
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“That the two seeds, or the four seeds, are where the pear will go and where // it began,” writes Susan Stewart in a poem called Pear. She sees a woman fly and fall, over and over, and then she realizes the explanation: a diving board that she can’t see.
“If you find a sight like this as some kind of gift or sign, you’ve missed the way / the mind closes, the way the simplest thing pulls back its heavy hood // and slowly turns away from a thought ”.
My own mind is sealed when I try to draw something. Draw what you see, not what you know, my mother once told me. In art class, we were asked to draw a pear. But looking at a pear and trying to turn shadow into shadow made a steamroller go through the inside of my head.
Pears hung on the branches tens of millions of years before humans saw pears, named pears, and put pears in oil paintings. And “After we’re done here,” writes Billy Collins,
time will pass as it did
before history, pure and unnoticed,
a mystery that arose between the sun and the moon
before there was a word
for dawn or noon or midnight,
before there were names for the land
when the fruit hung anonymously
of scattered groves,
light on the soft green side,
shadow on the other.
• Helen Sullivan is a journalist for The Guardian. Her first book, a memoir called Freak of Nature, will be published in 2024 (she is destroying any trace of the previous title, Calcium Magnesium).
• Do you have an animal, insect or other topic that you think is worthy of appearing in this very serious column? Let me know: [email protected]