Has any title aspired to do so much as Applies to Oranges, a false substitution from the start? Apples just an autocorrect away. Applies a somewhat more serious turn. The full-length poem from Maureen Thorson, a gorgeous looking thing from Ugly Duckling Presse (2011), feels the distinction deeply. What are the applications of an orange? Its rules and limitations? What is its language? Its “peculiar gesture of loss”?
“Once I suffered by a fetish for certain words” Thorson says, though the words she has in mind just then–Morocco. Carbine. Amor.–are not the ones the poem returns to.
Departures then. An opening that is an ending, the enormous absence of a lover, who has boarded a boat and left for good. The poem is constructed around his hoped-for return – with the steady recurrence of words (those are easy somehow, they can just be spoken) pleading for some kind of presence in his place. The woman looks around the island, the beachhead and hotel, “the tender tourists with their trinkets / and tight-fisted maps.” The things that remain, the “few things left,” once incidental and inadequate, are now necessary remembrances. But it’s the oranges, foremost. He has taken those with him, along with “the ending and the plot.”
That word “orange” appears in each of the poem’s unmarked sections and this repetition does so much, both fruit and color in a single stroke. Each passage builds around expectation – it’s impossible to read without waiting for that word to come – and there’s relief when it does. An orange repeats itself too, in each segment and fallen seed, and the poem is made of both those things. But it never feels easy. Nothing is a symbol exactly. None of it has gone as planned. This is believable heartbreak, and the orange is right for it. The perfect way it fills the hand, teaches us holding, anticipates the sense of loss. The Creation Story told wrong. Adam takes the fruit and he fucking bolts. Absence carries through the pages like the scent of citrus on the hands.
Other words – Orphans, Satellites, Spiders, Tourists and Zenith (the tv) – also recur throughout. We’re in some kind of inner slideshow, each of these things fixed in the frame as the background moves around it. Thorson has hopes for these objects, that their range of meaning signifies the possibility of an alternative outcome. That the archive of experience can somehow be shaped retroactively, and a better story told. Red satellites, indigo spiders, blue Zenith, orange oranges, seem to stretch through both the alphabet and full visible spectrum, and what Thorson has done, pretty remarkably, is build an empowering deck of words and wavelengths that are hers to deliver as she desperately needs.
The book is all failed signals, the sky filled with satellites “sending sounds to other machines,” their “murderous chirrups” overhead that are not a true connection, like “a promise that only one of us believed.” The huge sorrow of Applies to Oranges, and definitely its beauty, is in the one-way hope of reigniting a human connection. It’s a letter we write and know we shouldn’t send but also know we will.
The 59 passages, each the size of a playing card, are really more akin to hand-drawn tarot. Fifty-six Minor Arcana. Three Major Arcana. This second set is of Thorson’s own imagining–The Ship, The River. The Hanging Orange. The orange then, as much as it’s synonymous with heartbreak, becomes a tool against it. The project is the permanent trump. It wins against everything. It needs to. Sometimes it’s the only power we have to make, as Thorson knows, the things that fail...the only things that stay.