Modes of Squash

The Iowa Review - - THE IOWA REVIEW - Michael Reid Busk

ISeptem­ber 1: Fac­tual t is a squash. Or per­haps a gourd. It is ap­prox­i­mately the same shape and size as my six-month-old son’s head. How­ever, the gourd—or squash—is lop­sided. My son’s head is not. If my son’s head were as lop­sided as the squash, we would’ve called the neu­rol­o­gist a long time ago, and our son likely would be wear­ing one of those soft, skull­cor­rect­ing hel­mets that re­sem­ble the head­gear ama­teur box­ers wear. I sus­pect the squash—let’s call it a squash—also weighs about as much as my son’s head. The av­er­age adult’s head weighs eight pounds (al­though I sus­pect my own nog­gin—wide and heavy-jawed and dor­sally ridged like some head-butting di­nosaur’s—likely weighs more than eight). My guess is that the squash weighs less than eight pounds, al­though how much less I’m not sure. (Shift­ing the squash back and forth from palm to palm, I’m re­minded of Har­ri­son Ford at the be­gin­ning of the first In­di­ana Jones movie, try­ing to gauge the weight of the Aztec [In­can? Mayan?] relic rest­ing atop some sort of spring-loaded, weight-sen­si­tive trap, then fill­ing a small bag with what he hopes is the same weight of silt. He es­ti­mates the weight in­cor­rectly. Things go poorly af­ter that.) For­tu­nately my son’s head, un­like the squash, is not topped with a brief, des­ic­cated stem. If it were, we would have more than just a neu­rol­o­gist to call, and the pa­parazzi would be perched in the trees out­side our house with their long-snouted cam­eras, look­ing to snap a photo of “The Pump­kin Baby.” By the way, the gourd/squash in some re­spects re­sem­bles a pump­kin more than it does a squash or gourd (hence the name am­bi­gu­ity): it doesn’t have the long-bel­lied, curve-necked shape of gourds, which I don’t think you’re sup­posed to eat, un­less you’re into fla­vor­less pith, and it doesn’t look like a thick-skinned cu­cum­ber, which is more or less my men­tal im­age of squash; rather, it’s the sort of cute, soft­ball-sized ob­jet that sells for a quar­ter the day af­ter Hal­loween (which is, by the way, in ex­actly two months, All Saints’ Day, at which point I sus­pect the squash/gourd will look more or less ex­actly the same as it does to­day, yet an­other rea­son to be sus­pi­cious of eat­ing it: noth­ing you eat should last un­shriv­elled, un­rot­ted, and un­ran­cid for two months—see Ham­burger, Mcdon­ald’s). Were the squash or­ange, I would, de­spite my skimpy knowl­edge of botany, be con­fi­dent in call­ing it a pump­kin, but in­stead, it’s a var­ie­gated, two-toned green and cream, ten

thou­sand blanched bits bur­bling up through a pine-col­ored sea, along with a few hun­dred larger blotches, rang­ing in size from BB to pea. The squash has no smell. A hand­ful of ver­ti­cal ridges like lon­gi­tude lines di­vide the squash into wedges, each ridge ex­tend­ing from one of the stem’s feet. The ridges are the dark­est por­tions of the squash, un­oc­cluded by the set of larger cream splotches, while the palest por­tions are near the nadir of its southern hemi­sphere, the squash’s Antarc­tica. Per­haps the green is a sort of veg­etable me­lanin, and the squash’s un­sunned Southern Hemi­sphere is iron­i­cally the same color as the skin of the north­ern­most Euro­peans. The only other un­greened swath is a ten­nis ball–sized patch along the equa­tor, scarred with a few rope-col­ored slashes. It re­minds me of the bald spot at the back of my in­fant nephew’s head, the hair worn away by his mat­tress. (Pe­di­a­tri­cians warn you not to put ba­bies to sleep on their bel­lies. My wife does not lis­ten to pe­di­a­tri­cians, which is per­haps why our son has no bald spot. Then again, he has lit­tle hair to lose.) The bald spot is quite com­mon with ba­bies, and, if my mem­ory serves cor­rectly, also with vine-grown, ground-creep­ing fruits: squash, gourds, wa­ter­melon, pump­kins, each of which al­ways seems to have a frog-bel­lied patch un­derneath. As with a wa­ter­melon or can­taloupe, one of my first urges af­ter pick­ing up the squash (par­tic­u­larly af­ter notic­ing its pleas­ing den­sity) was to rap it with my knuck­les, which makes a re­ver­ber­ant thonk­ing (not a pe­di­a­tri­cian-rec­om­mended tech­nique with the heads of small chil­dren). I’ve hit it a hun­dred or more times, test­ing the higher-pitched polar caps and the lower equa­to­rial tones. All of it seems to sug­gest there is more in­side than out­side, and so I knock on, as though telling the squash: Let me in.

Septem­ber 2: As­pi­ra­tional/in­spi­ra­tional The squash wishes it could be green all over, all over green, the green of a Christ­mas tree farm seen from above, but it’s flakked with pale­ness, awash in pim­ples and wens, a bleached rosacea, the same sour-milk shade it bog­gles the mind to think peo­ple choose to paint the walls of of­fice build­ings. It longs to look like the acorn squash, clothed like an Army of­fi­cer in vir­ile hunter green, but at a dis­tance, it’s a wa­tery yel­low, the color of an un­tended fish tank. But all things are more in­ter­est­ing close-up. The mind and eye would quickly tire of the un­bro­ken green of an acorn squash. Uni­for­mity is not beauty. Hop­kins wrote, “Glory be to God for dap­pled things,” and in the dap­ple of the squash are the bub­ble-trails of scuba divers, the freck­les

of an arm more freck­led than not, the Marin County land­scape mus­cly with hills, its golden slopes love­lier for the stip­ple of wiz­ened trees float­ing atop them. Not sour milk, but the Milky Way.

Septem­ber 9: Sonic Squash. Feel the word in your mouth, that first s whis­per­ing like the head of a match against the strik­ing strip, just be­fore the ig­ni­tion that is the back of the tongue im­pact­ing the hard palate, spark­ing the com­bus­tion of the cen­tral vowel, fill­ing the mouth cav­ity so fully that it forces your jaw fur­ther open, only for the sound to col­lapse back on it­self, fad­ing into the shush of the sh. It is the sound a can of Coke makes when you open it. On a grander scale, it is the sound track of the tide: the hiss of a hun­dred mil­lion tiny bub­bles burst­ing (the sound of Rice Krispies when you pour in the milk, if the bowl was the Pa­cific), the hard c of the crest­ing, the vow­elly wind howl­ing in the hol­low un­der the wave, the soft crash of wa­ter on sand. The verb form is an al­most per­fect ono­matopoeia, con­jur­ing the im­age of a child pan­cak­ing an over­ripe tomato into a table­top. Merely say­ing it gives a sim­i­larly tex­tu­ral plea­sure, like dig­ging your hands through a bowl of pop­corn ker­nels. It is un­for­tu­nate we rel­e­gate to tod­dlers and po­ets the mouth-plea­sure of our lan­guage.

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