“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Even the Lion Lies Down for the Worm

Excerpt from the novel “Cinnamon and Gunpowder,” by Eli Brown.

(In this shipboard scene, crashing furniture has killed Kerfuffle, a pet rabbit owned by Mabbot, a female pirate captain. The narrator is a man who is nursing the wounded captain, his lover, back to health. Until now, the man has felt jealous of the pet rabbit, but is aghast when the captain tells him to cook it for them to eat.)

“You’re joking.”

“Do you imagine that I don’t know where meat comes from?
It was the most lucid I had seen her in days. I would have balked if not the glare she gave me over her shoulder, which was a taste of the old Mabbot.

Knowing she needed proper nourishment, and as there was no other fresh meat, I dressed and went to the galley, holding Kerfuffle under my arm.

I thought I would take pleasure in skiing that watchful rabbit, but not that it was still, it engendered in me a tenderness for all fragile flesh. I sharpened a knife until it shone, then skinned and cleaned the rabbit, trying to make each cut a gesture of respect. Loath to waste any part of the animal, I set brains and hide aside for tanning.

As I progressed deeper into the body, I felt a mystery revealing itself to me and began to pray, not with words but with simple cooking, a prayer not for the soul of the rabbit exactly but for the generous blending of its life with Mabbot’s. She had fed and loved it, and now its flesh would become hers and mine, and in this way I understood that all beings lived to feed one another as even the lion lies down for the worm. In the striations of the rabbit’s muscle, I saw eons of breath and death.

This was God’s grace, without which all bodies would fall to ash. I had been cooking my entire life and had never understood the sanctity of my duties. For all of my kitchen philosophies were nothing compared to the truth that now opened me to the bone: that I was, myself, food.

The book of rabbit broth I carried to Mabbot’s cabin was a forgiveness and a plea for forgiveness, an acknowledgment that this blood is shared universally. With this meal I surrendered to the mystery of my days and vowed never to look askance at love of any kind, nor to defy it. For the world is a far more expansive and mystifying place than can be said.