MR. BOSWELL PEELS AN ORANGE by Sarah Johnson
My wife’s marmalade is the best I’ve had. She peels and crushes
the oranges herself, and for days
the house smells of oranges’ beaten golden pulp. Under her persistent hands,
the fruit submits. It becomes a vivid concentrate,
textured with rind. Stored in jars,
it will keep for months.
Johnson used to make a drink for himself
at our Club, with water and muddled oranges. With a spoon he crushed the segments
down in the glass. Fishing out the peels, he put them quickly
in his pocket—it seemed he didn’t want to be discovered, though his dirty coat
smelled guilty as oranges. I made a bet with a lady,
who didn’t think me man enough
to ask him why he kept the pieces. It was one of his obscure compulsions.
My store of notes was still growing
in those days, rising in ragged pillars in my stonewalled study, away in Scotland
where I’d compile them. Johnson’s voice, unmistakable, kept sounding
through me. When he died, I was in Edinburgh. He left me nothing.
On the morning I dared
to ask him, I stood over his writing-desk, my pen ready. I saw the peels
in a neat stack atop his diary. Under pressure, my friend admitted
his great liking for orangepeel. I noted down his strange unwillingness
to answer freely. Each peel was scraped and dried,
and cut into thin pieces. What he did with them next, he could not be prevailed upon
to tell. Firmly as always, he pressed my expression into vigor
and correctitude: he could not be prevailed upon,
even by his dearest friends, to tell. My pages smell of citrus, still.
Listen to Sarah Johnson discuss “Mr. Boswell Peels An Orange” below…