Lee Gulyas and Brenda Miller

Golden Angle – a collaborative essay



Lemon curd, lemon meringue pie, lemon tarts, limoncello, lemon financiers, preserved lemons for Moroccan food, lemons grilled with salmon.

I can be a little zealous with the zester. Peeling the thin shavings of lemon peel into practically anything when organic lemons are cheap in the stores. The bit of zest—with its trace of lemon oil, that hint of sweet bitterness—wakes all of you up.

When the Meyer lemon tree in my bedroom blooms, the scent startles, sometimes awakens me at night.

A lemon isn’t a lemon—it’s a cross between a bitter orange and a citron.

When I’m feeling virtuous, I’ll drink water spiked with fresh lemon juice every morning. It’s supposed to cleanse your liver and aid in detoxing your filthy body. If I do this practice long enough, I crave it first thing: astringency, the sweet-sour tang, the way it washes over the tongue.

A Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and an orange. Maybe a mandarin, depending on whom you ask. All I know is that my roast chickens or salad don’t care.

When I was young we used to wait eagerly for the care package from my grandmother at Passover—with Kosher treats you couldn’t find on the west coast: Mandelbrot, macaroons, and the jellied fruits: orange, lemon, and lime. Our favorites were the chocolate-dipped orange sticks, the sweet chocolate mingling with the bitterness of orange. In a way, I suppose, they were the perfect message for Passover: The bitterness of slavery giving way to the sweetness of liberation.

Lemons ripen in the heart of winter.



I stand in the ocean, wade out beyond the rocks and eelgrass and look to the horizon, past islands and mountains and clouds. There is little space between solace and desire. They are intertwined, their edges ever-shifting, like sandstone shorelines or worn paths on a mountain trail.

Where are the borders? Yesterday I licked honeycomb off paper. Yesterday I had coffee in a blue metal cup on a pebbled beach. Last night I was startled awake by a bright blue moon, then later by an emergency siren. Yesterday I stood at the edge of a continent trying to see past the land, to see past the limits of continental shelf, self. Yesterday I stood, trying.

But can we ever really see past our own limits? (and who created these limits, put them into place?) Perhaps we spend our whole lives in just this pursuit: pond sweepers, clearing the surface of blanket weeds, algae, the daily everythings that obscure our vision. It’s a daunting task, never-ending, as clarity is necessarily a temporary, temporal, state.

And yet: and yet: The eelgrass waves us in. After all, how long can one stare at a perfection? It’s the random patterns we want—the shifting strata of detritus coming together and drifting apart. We want the swirl of something in our sights. Too much clarity is monotonous. No, give us the litter and the leaves. Reflections distorted just enough so that we need to peer long and hard. We want to be obscured. How else can we be brought to light?


Golden Angle

Where I live, when the sun comes out after a long wet gray winter, people point to the sky and ask their neighbors, What is the yellow orb? And every few years a new influx of residents from sunnier places like Texas or California cause property values to rise, but no one gets too worried because a good portion of those transplants don’t last the winter, especially if it’s an El Nino year—darker and wetter than usual.

I once read that the people of this region purchase more sunglasses per capita than anywhere else in the nation—a mystifying statistic at first, until you realize that you need sunglasses seasonally, and don’t use them for long. So when the sun pops up again you have no idea where those glasses might be and are forced to buy another pair. When the rains ease, seedlings sprout, buds form, and you will find us—human heliotropes—tilting our heads to face the sun.

Yet, a head can hold only so much sun and seed. In Vermont, where the sunflowers swell big as hubcaps, they twist their faces toward the ground, bowing from the neck. In this position, they hide the intricacy of their centers, unless you can stoop to claim them. This is where the seeds develop, hundreds of them: The tiny bit of meat you swallow after spitting out the soft shell. This kind of eating takes patience, the kind of patience you rarely possess.

A sunflower is a daisy writ large and has a particular sequence of florets that make up the center: The flowers within a sunflower head are clustered in a spiral pattern whereby each floret is oriented towards the next by the golden angle of 137.5° In biology and mathematics, the golden angle is not a metaphor; it’s merely descriptive, a way to describe the sectioning of arcs within a circle.

But when you stoop before a sunflower, you occupy a golden angle: The precise measure of your sublimation to beauty and its passing. The flowers shower light upon your face. Their petals flow away from the center like ribbons, unfurling in splendor before the fall. You need your sunglasses, polarized light, to see it all without blinking.


Brenda Miller is the author of five essay collections, most recently An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016). She also co-authored Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction and The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University, and associate faculty at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her favorite dessert is a tub of mint-chip ice cream shared with her mother.

Lee Gulyas’s work has appeared in journals such as The Common, Prime Number, Barn Owl Review, Event, The Malahat Review, Tinderbox, Literary Mama and Full Grown People. She received a Washington State Artist Trust Grant, teaches at WWU in Bellingham, and has twice participated as faculty in WWU’s Service-Learning Study Abroad Program to Rwanda. Her current favorite dessert is Tres Leches.

Their collaborative work has appeared previously in Sweet, and reDIVIDer, and is forthcoming in Los Angeles Review and Los Angeles Review of Books.

… return to Issue 9.1 Table of Contents.