“Decay” by Sara Sethia

Sara Sethia


Suffering and happiness, they are both organic, like a flower and garbage. If the flower is on her way to become a piece of garbage, the garbage can be on her way to becoming a flower.
—Thich Nhat Hạnh

I don’t remember why I left
a half-cut tomato,
inside a plastic box
in the school locker but
when I returned to it
a week later, it was melting
soft, its red disappearing
into foamy white silver—is this
how the moon would look
from my window when she’s dying?—

The teacher held the box
on her palm and decided
to show us, a class of five
neatly-lined dahlias, the tomato rot
under a microscope.
So, we pranced to the lab
and queued behind the grey
microscope’s arm. I in the end,
without the rush of another body,
pressed my eye against the microscope’s—
the fungi, o the beautiful
love-making fungi, rising
from tomato soil,
the way sunflowers rise
from grandma’s

from Poets Respond
February 1, 2022


Sara Sethia: “Three days before Thich Nhat Hanh passed away, I was listening to his conversation with Krista Tippet on her show, On Being. During the conversation, when he spoke about death and suffering, my mind wandered to the time—12 years ago—when I had left a tomato to rot and a week later, had stood in the school lab, holding the rotten tomato, wondering why the beautiful white fungi over the tomato was called by a word so harsh as ‘rot.’ That night, the 11-year-old inside me, slept peacefully after learning from Thich Nhat Hanh that decay, suffering and death were intimate manifestations of life itself.” (web)

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