Time was, you would hire men to run at pace with what was yours, if you had the means.  You would move it over craggy plain and across a hall, and as you did, there they were, marking you.  These men would move at length with your belongings and in the slow meander of language it came to be that these men also belonged.

The primary notion was apparently “equally long, corresponding in length,” whence “running alongside of, parallel to, going along with, accompanying as a property or attribute”; compare belong v., also bilenge adj. (“belong adj.” OED)

In this way we have come to say that we belong to others, that we run in pace and at length with them.

It’s a beautiful image – adjusting your body to keep time with another, granting of yourself that way – and, like beautiful things, terrifying.

And unreliable.  At any point one could decide to stop keeping pace with you, or get injured, or have a heart attack.  You might not pay them enough.  They could experience separate, solitary needs.  And then what?


belong v. […] 4.a. To be connected with in various relations; to form a part of appendage of; e.g. to be a member of a family, society, or nation, to be an adherent or dependent of, to be a native or inhabitant of a place; to be a dependency, adjunct, or appendage of something; to be one of a generation of time.  Also const. to, unto. (“belong v.” OED)

Our bodies are a series of loops that feed back in on themselves and acquire new data, and send that data coursing through us.  And we adjust as best we can for the sake of sustainability.  Sometimes the loops absorb consistent enough data that the distinction between our selves and the data we process becomes blurred.  Think of carpal tunnel syndrome.  Think of insulin pumps.  Think of the way you appropriate a turn of phrase or a gesture from your mother.  Think of braces.  Think of Levin in the field with his scythe. Think of astronauts, as opposed to John Carter of Mars.  Think of a grenadier’s arm.

By some accounts, Persephone was innocent and held against her will, longing always for the meadows and sunshine and the laden, watchful eye of her mother.

I prefer the accounts where an absorption of new data, an adaptation to her surroundings, an appreciation for her queenly treatment and all that deference, gives rise in her to the idea of eating the pomegranate seeds.

Edith Hamilton tells us it was customary in the classical world, and for good reason (think of digestion!), that eating another’s food made you accountable to your hosts.  Persephone knew that.

Even the choice of a small secret gesture – such as eating six plump seeds of a pomegranate, such as bursting their arils, one after another, with your tongue on the roof of your mouth – even this is an ascent to keep pace with another.

And so, she belonged in a meadow, but she also belonged in Hades.

bursting arils

A pomegranate, where each seed contains a tree, a hundredsome chances at new life, gives rise to a grenade, which contains a hundredsome opportunities for damage or death, injury or infection.  A golden boy (because we are all golden when we are icons of youth), long of limb, all sunshine and skin and unenacted drives is recruited and trained, and his muscles absorb the new data of his training and he is perfectly equipped to lob a grenade behind enemy lines.  Shrapnel is a nasty business.  But it doesn’t come from nothing.  It is the result of the adaptation of nature and language.

But if I don’t like Persephone entirely innocent, entirely victimized, I shouldn’t like our golden boy entirely clean either.  I like him golden and violent and capable and young and scared.  I like him choosing to keep pace with a thing that is larger than him, and as difficult to predict.  Like wielding his teenager’s hand: razor to chin.  Like an allergic reaction.  Like a hive that is also a lung.

When I first was confronted with the sentence “My body belongs to the U.S. government,” I bucked and reared.  I was unlikely as a Clydesdale become lithe through the anger of its will.  The exchange took on its own mass, like hoof to spine and push hard and return hoof to warm mud.  “Bodies don’t belong to political entities.  Don’t be absurd.”

Then it started to soften: “What you’re doing is perpetually granting it access.  That’s different than it owning you.”

But I am unconvinced.  So I indexed every word of the Constitution in alphabetical order, by hand, to find loopholes.  For example:
●    against domestic violence
●    delivered upon claim of the party to whom such service may be due
penis jokes: power to lay; erection; discharge
●    corruption of blood
●    be delivered up
●    tender
●    several
●    comfort

I thought it would make a good poem.  Which is a vow, if it’s anything at all.

It’s unseemly to cheat at vows, as you’re composing them.

If, in the moment, you stretch out your three seconds and find that time is unreliable on you, you duck.  The grenade will explode in a curved V.  The trajectory would look like the cleavage you used to sketch in your textbooks.  It is loud like that.  And every bit as violent.

Eat dirt like you’re pregnant.

Eat dirt like Demeter misses her daughter.

I am mud-splattered and sweaty in my thoughts.  But maybe I blend in; maybe we are not such clean creatures as we might wish.  We are permeable and conflicted and confounding and nebulous and language works on us in its way, just as we work on it with the undeniable gravity of an exploding grenade or a decomposing pomegranate.


Sometimes I plan things

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Meghan wishes almost every day that she had a mat cutter and more wall space, because she thinks most of her possessions would look better framed. She lives in the Insurance Capitol of the World, where she works at a contemporary art center, teaches the occasional college English course, and lives with her one-eyed cat.

15 responses to “The Making of a Pomegranadier”

  1. Abigail Ohlheiser says:

    You’re lovely. I miss you. For some reason, this made me think, again and again, of another mythic figure: Atalanta.

  2. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/mdahn/2011/02/the-making-of-a-pomegranadier/ – view page – cached Meghan Dahn has strong opinions about whether a person can belong to a political entity, so she makes a diagram of a pomegranate-grenade to figure it out., Meghan Dahn has strong opinions about whether a person can belong to a political entity, so she makes a diagram of a pomegranate-grenade to figure it out. […]

  3. James Stobie says:

    In Section 10, when I read “You duck,” I didn’t read it as a verb, and I thought maybe you were using an iPad to write this, and it auto-corrected from something much dirtier.

    I like this structure. I’ma rip it off sometime if’n you don’t mind. I’m not going to show it to anyone, just squirrel it away with my nightmares and failures.

    I love the pomegranate stuff. I wish that Pom lady wasn’t trying to make the pomegranate the fruit of the snobs. I was in a reviewing class, and I wrote about a lady who painted pomegranates, and everyone in my review group jumped all over my ass about it. It was an awful review, I had a hard time writing it, so I just turned in my first draft, which was horrible crap, but the thing that really irked me, and that I didn’t have the balls to say at the time that it irked me, is that they complained about me liking the pomegranate paintings because they thought the pomegranate in art was a cliche. The pomegranate is used because it can be such a wonderful metaphor for so many things. When something has so many levels of meaning like a pomegranate is used wonderfully like you just did, it’s hard to think of it as a cliche. Granted, your work here is a lot better and more thoughtfully done than the paintings, but in my opinion those paintings were the only things I saw that night that struck me. Maybe I’m a sucker for pomegranate stuff because I sort of love the flavor but find them too tedious to actually eat.

    Anyway, I love what you wrote about the pomegranate, and for making me think of Demeter and Persephone, Persephone enjoying her position as queen especially. I always thought of the Rape of Persephone as a very tragic story, where she pined away for her mother on the other side always, pretty much the way I have always felt about winter, just waiting for it to go away, never seeing the joy in it. I like that in your version, Persephone is empowered during the winter, and has to be the devoted daughter in the spring.

    I think that’s the mark of a great writer, that in a few lines you can change a person’s perspective of the world, and I’m sorry that all I can do is say, thank you.

    • Meghan says:

      Rip off away, James!

      In a similar turn to your initial misreading of “duck,” I was picturing a kind of folk art thing with the “painted pomegranates” where a woman let them get all dried out and leathery and petrified and then used the skin as a kind of canvas. I thought, “Huh, well I guess that makes sense…it’s a kind of similar texture to canvas.” Then I got it. Champion reading skills, as ever.

      At any rate, pomegranates are just too awesome to be cliches.

      Thank you for reading it and appreciating it.

  4. Matt Salyer says:


    I agree completely. There’s something going on in the structure that’s really worth ripping off. It uses the internet post as a form that makes language stand in for what Meghan does is the illustrated poem diagrams. I really like this a great deal. Meghan, you should think about posting your amazing poem planning sheets as a series where everything’s hyperlinked in them and self-recursive like a rhizome. You’ll probably correct my understanding of rhizomes at this point, but you get the idea. I wan’t to rip this off, too. Wanting to steal what someone else came up with is probably the most honest way of saying: “yup. wow.”

    • Meghan says:

      Thank you, Matthew.

      Actually, it’s interesting because I didn’t really start doing the poem planning sheets in earnest until I was doing lots of web reading and thinking about html and links and embedded media and whatnot. I like the idea that something analogue and lovely can grow out of something digital like that.

      I wonder if the poem planning sheets could work that way – I think to be really rhizomatic, they’d have to mirror the structure of something like visual dictionary. The idea that Mady had the other day to make a similar structure for wikipedia is probably more akin to what I would need for the poem planning sheets though.

      As it is, they are all (I think) up on flickr, which has some limited linking abilities. You can do notes on top of the image, but it’s still on a separate layer. Imagine actually activating each of the drawn elements. That would be friggin awesome. If I could do that, I would probably become a reclusive unemployed person who didn’t do much else. Honestly. But you could write a great pulp-ish sci fi story about me if that were the case, so it would all be okay, right?

      Anyway, I am so glad that you like this.

      • I just wrote a massive reply here, like an hour’s worth, then accidentally closed the tab. It was about an exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks in which some of his drawings had been animated. So, yeah. Also on one page he tried out Pythagoras’ theorem with cubes instead of squares and you could sense his frustration. In another culture* he’d have scrawled BOLLOCKS across it, screwed it up and thrown it in the bin.

        Anyway, that was a fun read. By which I mean the actual act of reading it was fun, unlike the Calvino novel I abandoned a couple of weeks ago.

        Coincidence: Logging in to TNB I clicked the wrong bookmark and landed on the # 1924 Armstead worm drive snowmobile, a machine of which Leonardo would have approved.

        Drawings. Animated. Yes.

        *British public school c.1985

        • Meghan says:

          First of all, I am using all of my wanting right now in the direction of that Armstead worm drive snowmobile. Lovely. Useful. Fun! Faster than a briskly walking man!

          Regarding Leonardo’s notebooks, I would have loved to have seen that exhibition. I especially love the chance to see thoughts in progress and work as-yet-unfinished. On my good days, that’s what I really loved about teaching.

          At any rate, glad to have beaten out Calvino (!), reminded of Leonardo, and accidentally prompted knowledge of an awesome snowmobile!

  5. songw says:

    This is quite brilliant— the language is beautiful ,tentative and finally startling which is how insight is pulled into view. I particularly like the loops section—though i think orbits is a little closer—grand unseen forces that keep us circling at precisely the correct distance.

    When I was a boy I was fascinated with a simple toy called a Bolo—not the tie…though i admit i have one of those also
    The Bolo was a wooden paddle with a small rubber ball attached to the paddle with elastic band. The idea was to hit the ball again and again with a the paddle driving it out to the point where the elastic band couldnt stretch any further. Then pulled back by an unseen force the ball would hurry back to the point of contact.

    The ball I guess could only feel its connection at the point where it was furthest away

    You should be contributing to a local paper—the living section of the times for example would be the perfect kind of thing–though one small point try to knit the disparate images together—and let the insight speak for itself

    • Meghan says:

      I had a The Bolo when I was a kid! I was always impressed by the exponential movement of it…or what I imagined to be exponential.

      Thank you for the encouragement! I would be deeply honored to have a place in the Times.

  6. Matt Salyer says:

    So that’s what I look like, huh?

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