551: Tangerine Peel

551: Tangerine Peel

551: Tangerine Peel


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

The other night, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people I love. It wasn’t worry necessarily, but it wasn’t not worry. Maybe this was a result of not having seen some family members, due to the pandemic. I don’t know. At one point I drifted off and dreamt about my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother and I woke up thinking I needed to rush to see them, to visit them, to tell them how much I loved them. But of course, after waking up a bit more, I remembered they were no longer living. I was worrying about people that didn’t need to be worried about anymore. Then, I decided to reframe my thoughts as not worry, but love. I was loving everyone so much that I couldn’t sleep.

Recently, I was thinking about how I hadn’t seen my father’s siblings in so long. They too showed up in my dreams. Always wondering where I had been. Why I was so busy. In my dream, I was the one who had been absent.

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by your own attachments. To want to reach out and talk to everyone, to want to make sure everyone is safe and good and healthy and well.

Back in 2007, when I was first learning meditation, I started to practice Loving Kindness Meditation that I learned from Sharon Salzberg at the Tibet House. It’s a way of offering love to loved ones, to strangers, to difficult people in your life, and to yourself. I repeated the phrases: “May you live free of danger. May you have mental happiness. May you have physical happiness. May you have ease of wellbeing.” I loved this meditation. Still do. But early on, my problem was this: I couldn’t stop offering it. It started to feel like a job. Like a necessity. Like an obsession. I often couldn’t sleep because I was trying to repeat the phrases and offer them to everyone I could think of, everyone who had ever crossed my path.

This was when I realized that attachments were real and sometimes in need of loosening, my fist needed to open. I needed to learn to love people without gripping the wheel so tightly.

In today’s poem by the extraordinary Mary Ruefle, we see how a strong attachment to the world can change the way we perceive everything. Even something as small and seemingly inconsequential as a piece of fruit.

Tangerine Peel
by Mary Ruefle

What did the little tangerine do 
to deserve to die like this? 
I am a scalp of myself, skinned 
by my own thoughts. Ah poetry, 
god of molting turkeys, save 
my brother from the truck, save 
my mother from the fire, save 
my sisters and fathers from the 
dust of their own homes, 
save their children from drowning 
in love, save my friends from 
going through the ice, save 
all animals from starvation, and 
those who have gone rogue, save 
them too, strangers everywhere, 
try to save them, my husband 
and puppy. Ah little tangerine, 
by all implications of the dictionary 
you do not deserve to die. 
Forgive me.

"Tangerine Peel" by Mary Ruefle. Used by permission of the poet.