Jack’s Naughty Bits: Toni Morrison, Beloved

Pin it

Jack's Naughty Bits

Hard-bought, wisdom. Take something away from a man, then he’ll understand. Heidegger says you don’t know the tool-ness of a tool until it breaks. And the heart? I often wonder how much we can hurt, how much we can know. I’m listening to some good music now, pretending not to be alive, looking down at a book I have read many times, trying to figure out how to describe that feeling you get when something strikes the deepest tuning fork you’ve got in the hollow case in your chest. I’m not always sure I can go on living, but that’s when I think I’m doing it for real. Feeling the accumulated weight of silent tragedy, drunk with how beautiful beauty can be. It seems I have to go on, but feeling this much feeling head-on I don’t know how I ever will.


This is what happens when I reread Beloved. Pure, lucid knowledge that I’m brushing against the true. Wondering how I could I ever manage not to break beneath the weight. How any of us do. Morrison’s achievement is among the handful of books that take us to the love-ravaged, love-saved heart of human experience. And remind us that we’ve been there all along.

* * *  

From Beloved by Toni Morrison

[note: Sethe and Paul D are in bed, thinking back on how Sethe lost her virginity to Halle in a cornfield, while Paul D, Sixo and others looked on)]

They coupled for the third time, the first two having been in the tiny cornfield Mr. Garner kept because it was a crop animals could use as well as humans. Both Halle and Sethe were under the impression that they were hidden. Scrunched down among the stalks they couldn’t see anything, including the corn tops waving over their heads and visible to everyone else.


Sethe smiled at her and Halle’s stupidity. Even the crows knew and came to look. Uncrossing her ankles, she managed not to laugh aloud.


The jump, thought Paul D, from a calf to a girl wasn’t all that mighty. Not the leap Halle believed it would be. And taking her in the corn rather than her quarters, a yard away from the cabins of the others who had lost out, was a gesture of tenderness. Halle wanted privacy for her and got public display. Who could miss a ripple in a cornfield on a quiet cloudless day? He, Sixo, and both of the Pauls sat under Brother pouring water from a gourd over their heads, and through eyes streaming with well water, they watched the confusion of tassels in the field below. It had been hard, hard, hard sitting there erect as dogs, watching corn stalks dance at noon. The water running over their heads made it worse.


Paul D sighed and turned over. Sethe took the opportunity afforded by his movement to shift as well. Looking at Paul D’s back, she remembered that some of the corn stalks broke, folded down over Halle’s back, and among the things her fingers clutched were husk and cornsilk hair.


How loose the silk. How jailed down the juice.


The jealous admiration of the watching men melted with the feast of new corn they allowed themselves that night. Plucked from the broken stalks that Mr. Garner could not doubt was the fault of a raccoon. Paul F wanted his roasted; Paul A wanted his boiled and now Paul D couldn’t remember how finally they cooked those ears too young to eat. What he did remember was parting the hair to get to the tip, the edge of his fingernail just under, so as not to graze a single kernel.


The pulling down of the tight sheath, the ripping sound always convinced her it hurt.


As soon as one strip of husk was down, the rest obeyed and the ear yielded up to him its shy rows, exposed at last. How loose the silk. How quick the jailed-up flavor ran free.


No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.


How loose the silk. How fine and loose and free.

© Toni Morrison