A nephew brought fruit last night. There are some red grapefruit, some sharply scented lemons, and a couple of pomegranates so ripe that they are bursting open, exposing rows of the translucent, dark red kernels of flesh within which the pale seeds can be seen. I've always loved pomegranates, though they are among the most frustrating of fruits. Like the mango which clings tenaciously to its giant seed, and the persimmon with its tenacious, mouth-furring skin and slippery, messy flesh, the pomegranate surrenders its rewards only to those with the willingness to submit to its peculiar demands. The thing the pomegranate demands most strenuously is patience. The kernels must be gently exposed by peeling away the bitter integument (so reminiscent of bees wax, or of tripe) and each then carefully plucked form its niche without bursting the thin red skin which holds the juice. Inevitably, some of them will break, leaving a dark stain on the fingers which will remain for hours.
It was because of the propensity of the juice to leave indelible stains on clothing that my mother always refused to buy pomegranates when I was a child. Fortunately, one of my friends lived behind someone who had a pomegranate tree growing close to their back fence, and in the autumn we would
But the slowness of the process of consuming this autumnal delight! That was always a sore test of youthful patience. Even now, I find myself eager to rip the fruit open and stuff my mouth full, heedless of pulp or skin or seeds, and let the juice run down my chin and drip onto my clothes. But I know it wouldn't be good. Too much pomegranate at once overloads the taste buds, and the pulp which inevitably accompanies any bite into the fruit adds its own unpleasantly bitter overtones. No, the kernels must be taken one by one, or a few at a time, and savored slowly. The pomegranate is the Zen master of fruits, teaching patience, and dealing out punishment for any departure from the true way.