Oral Floral

Foreword

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1. Where We Lie

The day you became a fish, my mind became the sea.

Long ago, when you kissed the waves on your mother’s hair goodbye, I stood there by the fire and listened to the radio sing from its gut before it cackled away with the flames. In a different hemisphere, you danced until your shoes became untied, then you danced until your feet became bare, and you could feel the sand underneath you.

The sunset didn’t ask for your permission before it sank too deep.

That night, I imagined the universe standing still as we walked past the sleeping roadside flowers to the granite valley. We counted the stars through watery eyes and chased them as they slipped past our trying gazes. In the darkness, you wondered why we often show affection through gifts destined to wither and die.

Three billion years away, a galaxy perishes, and a plane tumbles against crashing waves in the Pacific. That night, you became a fish, and my mind became the sea still warm from the afternoon heat.


2. Where We Blossom

When the Scottish philosopher David Hume famously declared that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”, he understood mankind’s struggle to carry out fully logical judgments. Although we strive as humans to function at a higher cognitive level than other species, impulses still overtake us, emotions sway us, and thoughts of fear and guilt float through our heads – it seems as though our evolutionary beginnings are too hardwired into our brains. So can we ever escape our primitive core? 

After spending the late 1940s extensively researching psychomotor epilepsy at Harvard University, American neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean joined the faculty of Yale University to study the mechanisms of emotion in the brain alongside famed neurophysiologist John Fulton. During his time at Yale, MacLean was able to further his exploration into comparative neuroanatomical studies, which ultimately led him to develop the triune brain hypothesis. By the 1980s, a renewed interest in comparative neuroanatomy pushed the theory into the mainstream, garnering MacLean international acclaim.

The triune brain hypothesis considers the vertebrate brain as three distinct yet interconnected layers all evolutionarily built on top of one another:

1)    The reptilian complex, which controls basic primal functions and impulse.

2)    The paleomammalian limbic system, which controls emotions and behavior.

3)    Finally, the neomammalian neocortex, which gives us executive thought. 

MacLean argued that we could analyze certain behavioral aspects embedded into the human psyche through biological examination of these “three brains”. Our evolution from simple organisms to complex creatures translates directly into the neurophysiological design of this triune system where our fight and flight behaviors developed first, then emotion as related to child-bearing and tribal bonding, then finally higher-levels of cognitive function and reasoning. These systems operate independently from one another, each “with its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space and its own memory." Thus, no matter how human we may feel, the ghost of our distant reptilian ancestors lurks within us all. 

While MacLean’s theory emits a Freudian allure in clarifying why we sometimes falter, the triune brain hypothesis has primarily been discounted in recent years much like the popular “left-brain, right-brain” theory and “10% theory”. In reality, the human brain houses a spectacular display of interconnected fireworks that behave like a unified whole. Every one of our thoughts and actions have been built by a series of experiences that can be traced back through to our biological lineage, and the trillions of connections between our 86 billion neurons determine our individuality. This, of course, includes parts of our nature that cannot be controlled nor explained.

Our attraction to the allegory of a primal brain, one whose impulsiveness we can never escape, is undeniable, and the triune brain hypothesis simplifies the explanation for why reason and logic sometimes loses out to our irrational side. In contrast to our cognitive reasoning skills, our habitual constructs and automatic responses feel disjointed. When our executive functions are sacrificed (like when under the influence of drugs or in love), our animal instincts overtake our humanity. We become reckless, territorial, and act without thinking, enslaved to our desires and motivations.

Whether we come to terms with it or not, human beings are still animals. Our genetic makeup consists of 200,000 years of history, back from when these automatic responses helped us survive. Ultimately, they have helped us get to where we are today. Perhaps one day, we can be more, but for now, we’ll just have to work with the brain we have.


3. Where We Feast

i. Sight

During those mystical morning hours, he would see her gardening into the hard soil, green rubber gloves wrapped over delicate, porcelain hands (or so he assumed). While still dim, the low sun reflected off the yellow tulips, transforming her into a golden specter. Every morning, he naïvely thought about approaching the chain link fence that separated them and calling out to her, but he didn’t even have a name. In fact, he didn’t have a voice, a personality, or even a face since her sunhat would shroud over any of her features like a willow. Perhaps, he should just remember her like a remnant of a prior night’s dream. Perhaps he should just… 

“I’ve never loved anyone deeper than the sea, but I still live happily on,” he muttered. He turned away from the window, followed his daily morning ritual of two eggs with French pressed black coffee and left out the backdoor.Metamorphosis, or the abrupt transformation of an insect’s body throughout it’s lifetime, remains a biological enigma.

A butterfly's erratic and unpredictable flight pattern allows it to evade predators while still flaunting garish wings.

 

ii. Touch

When she stands against the sunset, the light caresses the outlines of a faceless body. I smile at her, but her response is lost within the depths of a silhouette, leaving me wondering once again.  

In a few hours, her shadow engulfs my sleeping body and constricts me. I reach out to grasp her, but as always, there is nothing there.

iii. Smell

While animals have been shown to use scent to attract members of the opposite sex, the idea of human pheromones has fallen into the same category as astrology and horoscopes. However, science has shown that biochemical attraction does, in fact, exist. Through PET brain imaging, Swedish researchers discovered that smelling hormone-like chemicals affected mood, heart rate, and breathing in test subjects. Given this, they believe that subconscious olfactory cues may be sending signals to the brain.

To my knowledge, I’ve never heard of a couple getting married over body odor.

IV. Taste

Makes 2 Servings 

·       1 tablespoon of butter

·       1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

·       1 teaspoon of testosterone

·       1 teaspoon of estrogen

·      8 oz of dopamine

·       1 (28-ounce) can of whole plum tomatoes with juices

·       7/8 of a smile to mask self-doubt and inauthenticity

·       ¾ teaspoon salt, more as needed

·       ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed

·       A spritz of incoherent thoughts

·       Chopped cilantro, for serving

·       5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
 

1)    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2)     Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat, and mix all ingredients for 5 minutes, until tomatoes are tender. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper.

3)     Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C), and continue baking 15 minutes.

4)    Serve with cilantro and feta cheese. 

Tip: Foil can be used to keep food moist, cook it evenly, and make clean-up easier.

 

V. Hearing 

Capricorns and Geminis

They never seem to realize what’s wrong

With your head

Two more fingers in the air

You pull the trigger but you never care

For what you’ve said

All these lies I’d like to say

Before the thought just drifts away

With you, with you

Capricorns and Geminis

They never seem to realize what’s wrong

For you.

A mother’s touch and last goodbyes

Reflections in your empty eyes are lost
In your bed
Daughters from a distant land

With secrets that you never knew you had
Until your death

Concubines and love affairs

Mean nothing when I’m sitting here with you

With you

Capricorns and geminis

They never seem to realize what’s wrong


For you,

For you, for you

Nothing really matters for you

For you, for you

Nothing ever matters for you.


4. Where We Nestle

From the cellar, we watched the world pass over our heads in yellow packets they shipped from France. The planes would bombard Marseilles with a graceful levity that would turn the entire horizon into a beautiful sunset, and from our lone window at street level, we watched with only interest and reserved judgment as to why nature can’t compete with manmade beauty. During winter, the rain would thicken the roads and flood the only place we had to live, but life would still look pleasant out of that one window. Right outside, the fine suede boots - heavy from the water - would make the room quiver.

When summer finally came, the opposite wall of the cellar had begun deteriorating from months of abuse. The sunlight leaked in lightheartedly and by seven o’ clock, the space would be filled with a cheerful sun. It shrouded the room with a delicate light that would nestle softly into every vestige. But from our corner with the window, the light would shine directly into our eyes and transform the world into a harsh white. We would have to whisper our names to know our place, hers Marseilles and this town mine.

 

I hoped within this space between us, I could discover myself.


5. Where We Wither

where we wither

Written May 2017 for the Oral Floral show at Jai and Jai Gallery