Thursday, November 17, 2005

The scent of sweet olives

I dreamt last night. I had fallen asleep late, very late, so late it had crossed into early. Thus, my dream came this morning. I entered a small red room, soft, candlelit, nothing sharp or dangerous. A man was seated playing a guitar as elegant as a ribbon of ebony silk. He strummed and plucked it as rich and delicately as one might pluck a holy pheasant at Christmastime. No words, in the key of E major. I knew this piece.

And then there was a guitar in my hands and I began voicing with it. Then came the words I'd sung before, the man with the guitar joining me in perfect harmony, he the higher part, me the lower: And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water / And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower / And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him / He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them / But he himself was broken long before the sky would open / Forsaken, almost human he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.

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When I awoke some hours later I found myself humming as I made my way down the hall and I wondered why this song was on my lips. Then it came to me. The dream. Nothing too remarkable about it at all as I sat down shivering in the unheated bathroom and opened the curtain above me to reveal a late morning sun dissolving like a sad wound of light in a grey grey autumn sky.

But why this song by Leonard Cohen? Then came the reason: I had stayed awake to watched a program about the science of biblical times, an examination as to the most likely manner in which Jesus would have spread his message throughout Galilee, discussion of the long dead dialect of Aramaic he spoke that has no lyrical equivalent in the language I've come to know his teachings and parables by, and the variable recountings of the words attributed to him so many years later in the gospels of his followers.

Returning to the warmth of my heated room, I turned on my computer to check my e-mail. Joni had answered my letter in which I had told her how I had scented Switzerland in the night air as the full moon rose over this sleepy little town of The Dalles. I told her how I stood there in a supermarket parking lot, eyes closed, sipping it with the nose of my heart, following it as if it were a sensual mating pheromone sent to guide me towards some distant and enchanted moth.

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In her reply, Joni recounted a story to me about the power of scent, how this particular sense is intricately bound to memory. Hers was of planting and landscaping in North Carolina last weekend when she caught something in the breeze and suddenly found herself in Peace Park in Japan. I did not finish reading it all as I began to write the following poem, which has a little of everything above in it. Who knows how or why these things happen, but I am deep in my element when writing, slightly sleep deprived, hung over with dream, and nothing pressing me to do anything else the day would have me do but this.

For Joni Smyth

Listen, for you will not hear his words.
They are sepulchered in a language long dead
as a trod of sunken footprints in a sea of red.
All you know of him has been cultivated from
a saxifrage of hearsay. But these words are known
to you nonetheless somewhere in the spores
of your breath. They have erupted from miracles
cleaved from seeds most invisible, things unseen
even by a god’s unaided eye. Listen, for you may
hear them in the scent of the wind while you are
planting shrubs or trees, tending to the discourse
of heavy water, mulching the sacrifices of ancient
fish so that a loaved verdure might overtake
the memory of what happened there.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall enfragrance sweet olive
in the mountless place where God’s mushroom twice blossomed

Listen, for against such a carbon sky ungathering
the riven multitudes, strewn as the culled hearts
of stars within the structures of their atomic lineages
go the messages you seek. You may find them in such
veils of brelled atmosphere, the beatitudes of believing
that from such a bloom as this might come the secret
names of God, names given to larks and warblers
who give them back to the terrible sun, names hallowed
by black worms who incant their candled syllables
to whales and elephants an afterworld away.

So as you bend in the greening that brings autumn
to your doorstep, furrow spaded with seed and scythe
in hand, kneel with risen head and listen with your nose,
there, and there again, the unmistakable traceless lode
of kinmokusei, that which spoons sermons back from
what cannot be resurrected, that which returns when
the silence remains, the manifest of what the meek have
truly inherited, a dulcitude promised to all who might believe
in the essence of the olive made sweetest by Hiroshima’s kiss.

Joseph Gallo
November 17, 2005


Blogger ankhara99 parried...

kinmokusei, that which spoons sermons back from what cannot be resurrected, that which returns when the silence remains

This is sublime.

The scent of sweet olive will always speak to me of the resilient whispered strength that only the Hiroshima survivors have. It flowed like a river of ash through their stories, and somehow, this scent compliments the hope they have managed to cradle and nurture throughout their lives. You have done their spirit justice with this piece. It is beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much. :hug:

November 18, 2005 5:54 AM  

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