In Praise of Mangoes







Francis Wade’s Tis the Season brought back a harvest of memories, especially with the picture from his web site with so many varieties of mangoes (Bombay, East Indian, Number 11, and Julie). My summers were spent down in Struie, Westmoreland on my grandfather’s farm, or combing behind Jamaica College and what is now known as the Mona Great House for mangoes, guineps, naseberries, and star-apples. But if I had to make a choice between all of them, I would choose mangoes.



Mangoes are the only things about which I allow myself to get nostalgic, but it’s an emotion I fear. Nostalgia allows you to live in a past that never existed. I don’t wish to become like those Miami-Cubans about whom my friend, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, likes to tell his jokes: How many Cubans does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the light bulb, and nine to say how much better the light bulbs were in Cuba before Castro and the revolution. Mangoes should not be debased with cheap emotions like nostalgia. Their color, texture, and taste are so tangible, they force you to be in the present.



And I love to eat mangoes --I mean, real mangoes, not some force-ripe sinting that they sell in Publix or Winn-Dixie (and forget about variety) that only because of yearning for the real thing, I used to nibble a few pieces, but without pleasure. I mean the mangoes you will now find West Indian stores in Miami that have been picked at the height of the season and been allowed to stew in their own juices for a few days and are now ready for public consumption. But every mango is different and comes with its own taste and way of enjoying its pleasures.



Bombay mangoes are robust and fleshy. When they are ripe, they only have a blush of color around their plump middles that signals they are ready to be eaten. I usually put them on ice, and after a few hours, remove the pit, and scoop out the luscious, yet firm flesh into my mouth, allowing my tongue to linger over the tangy dollops before I gorge myself on their abundance.



Number 11s are the complete opposite. They are small and fit easily in the palm of your hand. Number 11s display wild, garish, orange-red colors and can be devoured without any regard for decency or propriety. They have a strong (some say pungent) aroma that can be detected from a few feet away as you stroll through the store. But once you have taken them home to a cool, shaded place, you can gnaw into them with wild abandon, and they will greet you with a moist sweetness that will only increase your appetite. But beware, they are also stringy and the hairs often get caught in your teeth, but their pits can be enjoyed for hours.



With East Indian mangoes, you have the best of both worlds: Number 11s and Bombays.


 You can enjoy the meat and the pit. And one good-sized East Indian will fill you up. You wouldn’t go out of your way for an East Indian, for they attract annoying pests. But if an East Indian comes your way, take a bite or eat the whole thing if you have the time and the effort to expend—they will reward in their own special way. East Indian mangoes can withstand different temperatures, and they travel well. If you prefer your fruit to be a little tart, then you may be tempted to use East Indians as a good standby or replacement. Don’t. East Indian mangoes are for those who like things to be sure, steady, and dependable.



But the queen of all mangoes is the Julie mango. It is hard to describe Julie. Sweet, but with hint of turpentine that changes as it ripens. And at their peak, unlike the others, Julies must be savored—you must enjoy all the textures and flavors of their flesh. And even past their prime, when the season is almost over and the skin wrinkles, you can do what my cousins down in Struie did, eat Julies in the dark.



Mango


Hidden behind a cloister of leaves,
guarded by wasps, the flesh yields
the secret of pollen; peel the skin


with your lips, the sap trickles over
your fingers--the juice smells strange
on your beard; suck through the meat,


take the stone into your mouth,
and feel the hairs tickle your tongue;
call the goats, for the season is over.



Comments

shantielise said…
Hi Geoffrey,

I am a student writing a paper about mangoes. Could you tell me where this poem is from? Thanks!
~Shanti
Dear shantielise,

Greetings!

Shanti, I wrote the poem. It is from my collection of poems, xango music (Peepal Tree, 2001)

Bless up,
Geoffrey
shantielise said…
Oh! It is a beautiful poem.
All Best,
Shanti

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