Verbum Ineffabilis, by Anita Doyle

Cezanne, "Fruit and Jug on Table" Detail (1890-94).
Cezanne, Fruit and Jug on Table, Detail (1890-94).

“Before she could speak, my daughter taught me the language of silent things: fruits, flowers, an oaken chair. I came to understand, through my relationship to this small being, why the word adult forms the root of adulteration and adultery. Watching her, it became apparent that, as we mature, we fall from grace of the whole-seeing beginner’s mind that is our birthright. If, as Emily Dickinson says, “What awaits us in the unfurnished eye,” then what awaits us are the senses we were born with. She’s a teenager now, but when Lila was six months old she reawakened me to the way in which an orange speaks.

I had noticed one day that the oranges on the tree in our backyard were finally ripe, and it occurred to me that Lila had not yet tasted an orange, “A new adventure,” I thought, smiling, as I headed out the kitchen door, she straddling my left hip. I could see myself pulling an orange off the tree, splitting it open and giving her a slice to suck on. To my mind, the full experience of orange lay in its taste. That was “the point.” Lila showed me just how limited my comprehension was.

As we approached the tree, she began to bounce on my hip, kicking her feet in a wild, dancing rhythm and reaching her hand in nearly desperate delight toward the most amazing thing: a shiny, bright orange ball hanging in the tree! Did I see it? Her astonished glance asked me. I let her know that I did. I placed my hand underneath it, and the fruit, perfectly ripe, fell into my cupped palm. Lila touched it, wide-eyed, felt the cool skin, at once bumpy and smooth.

We sat down on the patio retaining wall, she in my lap, and I transferred the orange to her. Startled by the weight of it, she rolled it between her small hands, lifted it to her nose and chin, and then back toward me, utterly transfixed. When my fingernail pierced the skin and a perfect string of tiny droplets arched out to land on her cheek, her mouth opened and her eyes widened even further. And when, with skin peeled away, the shiny ball suddenly disappeared from view, bewilderment crossed her face, almost grief, but only until the “new” ball caught her eye. A round puzzle, with crescent pieces that pull out one by one…ha! Finally, when I reached a slice toward her mouth, her brows knitted, unsure what I could mean. Taste it? Really? But it was only the barest moment before she was laughing in pleasure at the sweetness. Lila’s love at first sight-touch-taste taught me not only that oranges speak, but what they speak with surprising eloquence.”

—an excerpt from Anita Doyle on letting the world speak from PARABOLA, Fall 1995, “Language and Meaning.” This issue is available here.