Tasting Life

Life is bitter sweet.  Life is salty sour. Life is sometimes bland, without inclination in any particular direction.  This can seem obvious. But so much of the time, we aren’t really tasting life, we aren’t really letting a given taste take over, teach us, tell us what is up. Taste is the way the world, the outside world and especially the plant world, communicates with us, letting us know what might be in store if we fully take what the world is offering.  

In each taste there is a message, an important message.  Bitter, for example, is the taste of toxicity, proximity to death.  A very interesting paradox. We love and hate bitter. We love our coffee, our chocolate, our negronis.  Yet, we don’t want to talk about our ever-present proximity to death.

Sour says step back and consider. Might not be too harmful, but take it in a little bit at a time. Conserve, take care.  Sour protects us from moving too fast into life. Salty says relax, give over, settle in. Salty says we will be nourished deeply, at our core. And most of us want to use salt a lot. We’ve been told that too much salt is harmful.  In a way, the harm of too much only comes from the loss of the ability to detect what exactly is too much. And then there is bland, the humdrum, daily, water-moving, almost undetectable experience of bland. Bland is what it is like to rest easily in the moment without any ambition to go anywhere.

If we have full possession of our taste buds, and our ability to smell ( a whole discussion on its own, but not unrelated, as smell is crucial to how we taste as well) we won’t miss the moment when enough is enough.   Unfortunately, often we have obliterated our taste buds with too much sweet and the moment is gone. [Here is the research documenting just how sweet taste does exactly that, blocks our ability to taste anything else]

Sweet is everywhere, as if we can’t bear our world without a heavy dose of sugar. We find sugar in the least obvious of places; in our drinks, in our mayonnaise, our tomato sauce. The ubiquitous sweet taste; of sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, maple sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, stevia, erythritol, xylitol. 

Even the fakest of sugars is still a sweet taste. Sweet taste is all about comfort, softness, buffer. Sweet taste reassures us, salves our wounds and bucks us up for the next bit of trouble. Sweet is the taste of the earth in Chinese medical thinking, the taste that nourishes, harmonizes, brings things together.  Sweet is the center but not the center of attention. Sweet is the way we live into ourselves if we are gentle and the way we touch another when we are paying attention. Sweet is the taste of home.  

Too much sweet, however, can bring things to a halt, make them sticky, stuck.  Too much sweet can make things impossibly murky, soft, cloudy. Too much sweet takes away our ability to discern other flavors, numbs us to other happenings in our world. Here in late Summer, understandably, we often want to bring things to a halt. We want to stop and savor this season of transition with its last vestiges of heat and light before the darkness takes precedence. 

It is hard not to love late Summer; the sultry invitation of the damp hot days, the melancholy softness that clings to the grass in morning and evening, the colors as they ripen into the almost unbearable yellows, reds, purples. There is in late Summer an abundance of sweet; tomatoes and squash, apples and grapes, evenings on the porch with friends, all sweet. Yet, when is it too much, when is it enough?  Can we taste the moment when things are turning, turning from ripe and sweet to cloying and overdone, gone, time to let go? Do you know?

The Meaning of Taste by Steve Godwin
Sweet is always first in line,
or would like to be.
Heaven is probably the kind of place
where you’re expected to have dessert first.
But, leaving heaven to heaven,
search no further
than this very world to receive
the love letter made of chocolate,
the songbird’s praise
for the deep blue day,
the scent of lilac, cloying
yet irresistible.
A memory of someone’s lap
you used to curl in,
the taste of being good.
The note in the melody
you weren’t expecting,
sour lives on the part of tongue
that detects the joke
amid all the muttering,
savors irony, enjoys the sting.
It’s the one at the edge
of the crowd, making faces
like the uncle in plaid
who always liked a pickle
with every meal.
Yet it’s known
in serious circles too:
sour’s the only taste
that ages well, the only one
that goes vintage.
Bitter is a wind
that robs you of all you don’t need.
It is the taste that teaches us
that pain teaches us.
A taste hard to acquire,
it may at times mix with sweet,
but don’t count on it.
Count on lying dormant
till the pill wears off,
dreaming of the day
when you will get up,
throw clean water in your face,
put on a new suit of clothes.
Salt is the story of life.
It walks with us through every door,
turns every corner we turn.
All our paths are salted,
beginning middle and end.
It seasons us the way
a good tool wears in the hand,
the way our bodies
enter the world every day.
Perhaps because we came from the sea,
it is the taste our bodies make.
Do we weep for our former home?
Isn’t there a life somewhere more mythic
we’d rather be living, the flavor
of which is said to be of the earth?
Steve Godwin is a graphic designer, book artist and poet, with a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill and a BFA from Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. He studied book binding at The Penland School of Craft in western N.C. in 2005. His artist books have been included in exhibitions at Bookworks in Asheville and at The Design Gallery in Burnsville, N.C. Steve was awarded poetry residencies at The Vermont Studio Center in 2006 and 2008. In 2010 he co-published a book of his poems coupled with photographs by Rick Ruggles. Steve currently is working on a collaboration with a photographer focusing on the N.C. Museum of Art.  stvgodwin@gmail.com www.artistbooks.ning.com/profile/SteveGodwin