Banana-rama-fo-fanna – Nana! This is a silly prompt, but then, hoorah! I notice in myself a tendency to hanker for the profound, which needs to be nose-booped into realignment with the world we live in. I can’t live on what skews serious, traumatic, life-shattering, alone. It’s good to be reminded that dogs in new sweaters are profound. Banana muffins are profound. The transfer of weight from one body to another, whether in play, work, or worship, is profound.
Banana! Declares itself. How am I going to take it, in this moment? Freud-banana, caramelized banana, banana pure poetry of the sun. Banana tree has emptiness at its core, and thus is a very Buddhist plant, furling itself out from void, fruiting, dying back. Banana both is, and is not.
The toilet is where I read about embodied truth. I sit on the toilet reading about Keet Seel, the Ancient Puebloan settlement that Timothy and I did not see, but only heard about, on our recent trip out West. I see pictures of the cliff-cave “billowing” up above the empty houses and kivas. I am here, in my house, looking at houses from eight centuries ago. Where will this home be, in that amount of time? Will anything of my life be accessible to someone sitting on whatever version of a toilet will be in use, then? How do we know the traces we leave behind? The toilet whisks away Chloe’s morning barf, my poop, the remains of yesterday, and here I am, Banana, ready to begin again.
Banana pudding is one of the foods the nuns have reacquainted me with, in their house where eight hundred years lives quietly with itself. I open the door of the refrigerator, and find a tray: one pink, covered Corningware dish of soup, one bowl of salad, one foil pouch of Tony’s Lite Ranch Dressing, one apple, and four or five desserts, plus a slip of scrap paper with my name on it, in Sister Alice’s beautiful hand. Sister Alice believes in the capacity of cakes, pies, cookies, and crumbles to convey the infinite abundance of the Universe.
Yes, this is a dying order. The Sisters are all elderly, and they know no one is stepping in to lead the lives they led. But they also know holiness has its own ways of working, finds the seams in the world, keeps benevolence moving as it must. They are walking away from their own Keet Seel, leaving behind flowered bedsheets, glowing burlap paintings of Jesus, and lidded cut-glass bon-bon jars. They are walking away, and the former quarantine hospital where the Sisters live will become something else, or will stand as a memory of their way of life.
Banana-yellow is a noticeably missing ingredient in New England January. I carry a yellow flask, crack eggs for yolks’ reminder of sunlight. I pour hot baths, add frankincense and Epsom salts, osmose yellow abundance through cold-pinched limbs. Sun puddles indoors with the syrupy urgency of a miracle cure. I curl up, drink in, yellow into being, free of coldness, darkness, hardness.
The dogs and I go up into the forest at Velvet Rocks. While I need spikes to stay upright on the icy trail, they are attuned to the banana-pudding thaw of icy streams. Here’s a pool of open water, ice-rimed but wide enough for one dogsbody plié, settling into flow, liquid, thirst-slaking abundance. Elliot flops onto his side, blissfully drinking his bathwater. The dogs find bananas everywhere: in the corpses they gnaw, the deer-poops they snaffle up off the snow, and in the snow itself, so suited for rolling in ecstatic abandon. To be a dog is to transmute the ordinary and the repellent into delight. It is also to see mortal danger in the mailman, but that is another story.
I grew up setting bananas on fire. Did you? Do try this at home: in a heavy skillet, or the crappy frying pan you just brought home from the thrift store, heat an unreasonable amount of butter, or whatever vegan alternative you like. Peel the last brown banana in the bowl, or whatever feels right. Fry it/them up. Add sugar, maple syrup, or the leftover stale marshmallows from last summer’s campfire. Let everything caramelize, then pour rum over it, enough that there’s a bit to spread around. Quickly turn out all the lights, and ignite. Voila! Blue-flickering disco destruction alchemy of dessert. Too little, and you get a sad little St. Elmo’s fire, then pfft. Too much, and you get a towering inferno that will take off your arm-hair and eyebrows. (Probably better to avoid this. Still, something of a badge of honor to wind up partially body-bald from your cooking activities.) You can eat bananes flambées with ice-cream or plain yogurt, though you don’t need to.
My brother and father once flambéed a Baked Alaska so hard, they had to drop it out of self-defense, sending flaming gobbets of meringue flying onto the walls and ceiling of the dining room. My mother briefly thought she would need to evacuate my ancient grandmother into the night, but the gobbets calmed, and everyone was OK. No one mentions having licked the walls that night, but I would have.
Condoms on bananas. This never really came up in high school sex ed, though I grew up in the AIDS era of the 90s. Maybe the idea was that we were exempt? Maybe our virginal leader was ideologically opposed to sheathed bananas in the hands of unmarried girls? Did the boys sheath bananas? Things were definitely gender-differentiated in that world. Girls put on pageants, while boys ran on the track till they barfed. I am sure there were boys who prayed for glue-guns and sequins, while there were girls who would have given anything for a clean relay race, instead of a protracted power-struggle set to Steve Martin’s “King Tut.”
Bananarama! An all-woman band singing about Venus. As a kid, I was susceptible to the profundity of the pop music I liked, failing to apply to it the skepticism that came so naturally, elsewhere. Today the task seems to be: see the profound in the silly, the silly in the profound. See the ripe banana, and the hollowness at the tree’s core.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now