Proportion Surviving

By Renee Gladman b. 1971 Renee Gladman
Long before the fresh apple crisis, my life had some form to it. I would wake in the mornings—I would perform something. For example, the day I tried, as one with acute passion might, to win one woman over but accidentally won another—that whole time I had been living like someone. Though I can’t remember his name. His model of optimism provided me with a certain geography that I inhabit in time of need. This time the need was surprising. People tend to have faith that the juice they drink in the morning is the same juice they have always drunk. And apples take their shape naturally. The guy, whose name escapes me now, taught me to look upon others’ concerns as mine to make at home. I was fond of doing many things at home, but my favorite was drinking juice. When my friends came by—they liked to suddenly show up with all kinds of breads in their hands, thinking they knew what I needed and planning to force it on me—I had to tell them I was busy with my juice. Two weeks before the crisis, I had been writing some poems about it. It was a warm day, not entirely different from other warm days in San Francisco. People were on the street. Pale people were on the street, making it to the park and lying there such that the next day they were a little browned. The poems I had written were failures, but dense ones. It seemed appropriate to think the person’s attempt at wholeness was a series of missteps, which if drawn across an afternoon might prove interesting to other people. I had a way of reminding my friends that we were all in pain, but a fruit tart kind of pain strangers can’t help but enjoy. That day I had, in a sense, gathered all my possessions and gone out onto the street with them. I awoke that morning with an urgency to prepare myself for something—not anything life threatening, but definitely personal.
 
My lover, then, wanted to spend much of her life asleep. She had no ostensible reaction to the city’s sudden depletion of all its fresh apples and no hope for them. In a world where a person’s tastes revolve around the kind of sleep she gets, I could not find four people who cared. I thought that if I could find those four people we could really do something. A few of my friends pretended they were chosen. A few neighbors felt bad and made offers. My mother called to console me. My lover—in actuality, the closest person to being a member of the encumbered troop, slept next to me. Sleep became our network: falling in and out of it for change. The rule of survival is that no two people can lie in the same bed and sleep at the same time. So I kept an eye on her and played this game of freshness. If by morning I could quickly run out and do seven things that did not involve longing, she would reward me. Before the crisis, the reward would have needed only to be an apple one. But after the apples were gone. The landscape usually contains the solution to what’s lost. Demographics help people in cars. Some people did not notice me. Some demographers lose sleep and do not notice me. That was two days before. The evening before it was two days before the crisis, I was thinking that I did not think I was asleep. I had been watching the sunlight take the corner of my room and my housemate’s cat in it. When I looked again, there was no light—but I had not been asleep. It’s the way people react to traumatic events. They say, “I had just been there” or will say, “She was just with me.” So the loss of light was emotional and the lost state—demographic. I began to trace things by their disappearance. Alone in the room, my memory, and anticipated darkness going for light. People like to talk about the daytime. People in strange moods often miss the daytime. Before the crisis it was not often that one would find me in strange moods. I had managed a particular kind of balance fortified by a certain satisfaction of taste. I was happy. I mean, I was in my juice.
 
Five weeks before the crisis, I was employed at the natural foods grocery around the corner from my house. I did not really work there, but I went there every week. All but the third Sunday of each month, I would walk in and find all kinds of juice on sale. Not to buy, but to stand next to. Shorter people have the privilege of proximity to most cardboard signs. That was one thing. I would stand there and be something for taller people who couldn’t see. I had gotten into the habit of improvised customer service as a way to peruse the juice aisles without being noticed. My parents thought my talents should have led me somewhere. My father would always say, “If you’re not going to be a people person, then numbers will have to do.” He was surprised that with all the time I had on my hands, I chose to spend most of it alone. Numbers then did hold some mystery for me, but mostly too high and far-reaching to explore. For years I had known that if there was a wall between where I was and where I needed to be, I did not want it there. Some people have personal goals that are demanding. Certain goals make it impossible to lounge around in bed. My decision to drink only fresh juice, which costs as much as a small satisfying breakfast, kept me busy rounding up cash. I would have to leave most friendships behind. As a way of keeping my life “wall-free,” I had to divide my time. I would spend the first part of the day searching for volunteer positions in organic juice factories. The second part of my day I would spend telling people about the first part. The other parts are not of substance here.
 
Twenty-five years before the crisis I had for the first time what would eventually become known to me as apple juice. Twenty-three years later a magazine editor would reject my first attempt to recount that experience in litany. I am always drinking in my poems, a good friend says.
 
In the first years of my life, everything I ate was mush. Today I will tolerate only the toughest of green vegetables and date people who will always forget this. When I had that remarkable glass of apple juice, I had no idea that one day I simply would not be able to find it. The city gets rid of its apples. People find themselves inventing fruit. The day I decided to write poems about it—it was twelve days before the rumors began and fourteen days before the media coverage—I had been resting in my best friend’s easy chair. We were discussing the rise of the smoothie industry when something fantastic occurred to me. Five days later I had twenty poems. When a person writes a poem about her passions, people on the street are bound to notice them. The passions overwhelm the body. She carries the body as though it were the book. The friend whose easy chair gave way to my failures moved out of town the next week, and though I miss her it was the failures that saved me. On every other day any kind of crisis one finds particular sayings helpful. If certain words are spoken quietly into a cup of hot water, with the handle of the cup turned toward the wall, whatever strength found in the person may be mirrored in the wall. The person leaves the house with her hand against this wall but strutting slightly.
 
In the alley behind the natural foods grocery, I met my second lover for the first time. Meeting people in vulnerable places accentuates the passion later. Or it may be so hot that the lover never thinks in the present. And the weather was so hot during the crisis. Only the alleys had shade. Forty-eight days into the crisis, while on a thirst strike, I had to make a run for the alley. Not as though people were after me, but the elements. The foundation of anyone feeling that they must get away is need; at the bottom of any body-based need is grace. When I appeared at the opening of the alley, a woman who not twenty-four hours later would be dozing in my bed was stacking crates against the east-side wall. Women who work against surfaces inspire me to do things—I thought about telling her, or—short women make me want things. All the time while I was growing up I put a lot of demands on my juice; forty-eight days into the crisis she made me forget it. I did not forget it, but was embroiled. The newspapers were saying things about the past. People were celebrating thick juice, and I kept writing those poems. That day in the alley I realized three things about life. While assisting her I learned three things to carry around with me, to disperse when needed. For six months during the crisis, I did not care about the crisis.
 
When my faith returned all my lovers were gone. That morning I woke to the two hundred and thirty-second day of the crisis; I was beneath my bed. It was the sixth day that I had awakened beneath my bed. I was lonely, but I was also sure. Life without juice had taken on the name and shape of my weakest character, who—when we passed on the street—did not know me. I knew it was me by the way my head felt: people find themselves in an idea and feel so specified by the idea that they are compelled to show it. Today all my ideas are liquid. That day of my faith, friends thinking I was sick came by to see me. It would be the last day I spent alone; I was happy, but still would not drink. The juice on my mind was no longer juice. There was an absence there, but one so constant it became familiar. I did not want to drink it.

Renee Gladman, "Proportion Surviving" from Juice, published by Kelsey St. Press. Copyright © 2000 by Renee Gladman.  Reprinted by permission of Renee Gladman.

Source: Juice (Kelsey St. Press, 2000)

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Poet Renee Gladman b. 1971

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Life Choices, The Mind, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Love, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Prose Poem, Ars Poetica

Biography

Born in Atlanta, poet, novelist, and publisher Renee Gladman earned a BA at Vassar College and an MA in poetics at the New College of California. Gladman, whose work has been associated with the New Narrative movement, composes prose and poetry that tests the potential of the sentence with mapmaking precision and curiosity.

Author of the poetry collection A Picture-Feeling (2005), Gladman has also published several works of . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, The Mind, Activities, Eating & Drinking, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Love, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Prose Poem, Ars Poetica

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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