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The Real Thing


Sir John Mandeville, the great explorer and liar,
claimed "there grows a kind of fruit as big
as a gourd, and when it is ripe men open it
and find inside an animal of flesh and blood
and bone, like a little lamb without wool."
He called this the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary.

I first learned of it from a very old hippie
who was feeling lonesome, one lavender
night of a misty joint, for the lambskin
condoms of his soft-hearted youth. And also,
most likely for a time when women in their
twenties heard such a line with more thrill
and less derision. A time when he didn't
get on a bicycle and think about his prostate,
get on a woman and think about his grave.

When Trojan brought them back as a mass
market consumable experiment in nostalgia
and the idea of the natural, my husband,
who would prefer to have another child
truth be told, bought a box for us to try.

After, we assessed. I've had better sex, but
there was a sort of hallucinatory flower
opening at the end, so that's something.

I've been reading about hallucinatory flowers
lately, particularly the ones used by medieval
midwives to induce abortion. This because
I like irony, I like control, and I like to see
a woman flipping the patriarchy the bird.

In my daily life, though, I stick with condoms,
because once the roots are in you, it's no mean
feat to get them out. It will feel like and be
a measure of poison. I think of the women
who once did the washing at the river with
a pair of stones and the meat of their arms.
I admire, but would not care to be, them.

When I took the little hormone pills, I always
worried I wasn't smelling things—pheromones
of men, lilacs, coffee, puddles around the gas
station—as they were meant to be smelled.
"Meant to be," I'm learning, is a dangerous notion.

Goethe said there was meant to be an Urpflanze,
an archetypal plant and prototype containing all
plants past and future. He could draw it, but
after many years of travel and searching had to
conclude there is, nevertheless, no such thing.

After equally many years, I'm starting to worry
that I am missing the point of my life. Was I
meant to be the ovary of a green calyx always
getting fatter? How will I think when I die?
I worry there can be nothing worse than realizing
your life wasn't what it was meant to be.

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, Mandeville reports,
grazed the leaves of its mother until its umbilical
vine dropped off. Then it became a lamb like any
other, with meat for slaughter and skin that is
said to feel as translucently delicate as a petal.

Is a petal meant to chafe?

I told my husband sometimes there's great
and sometimes there's good enough.
He said from his point of view there wasn't
really much difference, and what difference
there was wasn't an improvement so much
as a variation. So we went to sleep, content
enough, perhaps content as we were meant
to be, perhaps just shades of that.


Kathryn Nuernberger

The Gettysburg Review

Summer 2017


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