An egg, whole, uncracked makes a perfect arch. The eggshell’s beauty is the kind of beauty artists strive for. Foreshadowed, intentional, balanced, fragile. The opacity of the egg surprises. Its curves titillate. The potentiality the egg inspires.
Although an archetype of fragility, the egg simultaneously defies fragility. Tensile strength. Nature’s perfect delivery system. Perfect package. Perfect lunch box. Perfect suitcase. The egg is portable. A duck flies with an undeveloped egg tucked in her ovary, anticipating the smash and crush of her mate, preparing for the Gonadotropin hormone to activate follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones, the same hormones the fertile mammal awaits. Laid, the egg is portable enough to roll. Penguin partners press the egg back and forth between their legs to keep the egg warm. The egg, detached from the parent, is precious, almost artful, distinct from themselves—perhaps because the parents can see it from a remove. As they wait for it to hatch, they can barely stand the suspense.
There are many kinds of art as there are kinds of recipe for eggs. The kind where the egg is cracked, shelled, whipped, sautéed, and delivered to you on a plate: This is the great narrative novel. This one is filled with scene and character and emotion and narrative arc. This is the Platonic ideal of book and is always fiction (both in genre and in fact that such perfection does not quite exist). The other kind of writing is still sealed in its shell. The writer gives you a hammer. This is persuasive, analytic essaying. Meta-writing. Self-aware. Conversant with the reader. I like that kind of writing, don’t you? Then, There is the kind of writing that is the fertilized egg: like Chekov it develops followers. Fully-fledged chicks that grow up in shape and act just like Chekov’s stories do. Then, there’s the unfertilized egg. The one the writer takes home and boils. A cliché, an idiom, an expression, a poem short enough to remember. A nursery rhyme that the ear remembers even if the lips do not: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Barry Masteller’s The Neurotic Diner, Breakfast has two eggs and a hamsteak on a plate. The plate is on a paper placemat. The paper placemat is lined with notes, repeatedly writing, Monday Morning Monday Morning Monday Morning. The eggs are uneaten. Rather write than eat, the painter says, even though the eggs look perfect and the repetition feels less than.
Carolyn Campbell organized an Easter-time benefit campaign for a museum where they commissioned artists to create an artwork. They gave them each an ostrich egg. Folks like Alexis Smith, Betye Sear, John Baldessari and Frank Gehry. Mark Ryden painted an eye complete with eyebrow on the face of an ostrich egg. Frank Gehry opened his egg, peeling Exacto-knifed petals from the shell.
Dear egg, please see us. See us making use of you. Self-reflective becomes the art. We are the egg, but the egg is empty. We are hungry but we cannot eat as in Dali’s Eggs on the Plate without the Plate where two eggs actually do lie on a plate and a third is being lowered on a string from the sky. These are descendent eggs coming form a transcendent place. We aren’t going up but heading down, droopily. The earth, an arch itself, buttressed into tensile strength, braces to absorb us.
Nicole Walker is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, USA. Her previous books include Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse (2017), Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (co-edited with Margot Singer, Bloomsbury, 2013), and Quench Your Thirst With Salt, winner of the 2011 Zone 3 nonfiction prize. Her work has appeared in Fence, the Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, New American Writing, the Seneca Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She has been granted a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.