Scents of Place

There is something profound
delimiting each place I have claimed
as home; the tar-pungent tang
of creosote bush portending rain,
sweeping sideways as though pencil-
sketched on dun-colored canvas
as it spills from oceanic heavens along
open stretches of Mojave desert;

The smoke of brush fires tended
by human hands breaking trail through
twists of hemlock- and fir-peppered deciduous
forests of rural Maine; freshly-felled poplar
hewn into cones by toothy beavers busy
harvesting food and shelter for an ever-
impending winter as nearby cattail-flanked
marshlands waft musk into nostrils aroused
by their complex bouquet;

Now home in Kohala, Paklan and varieties
of gardenia overwhelm the senses first,
while undertones of Cattleya and banana shrub
glide subtly on variable breezes spiked salty
from nearby oceanic cliffs as Pamplemousse
blossoms overwhelm the more subtle lavender
and rosemary, mint and oregano bedded in
to round out a complex tropical palate;

The eucalyptus groves of my youth fill gaps
in the imagination, painting scenes like
so many watercolors bleeding into one another
until, despite what I might have attempted
to paint, a more vibrant vision emerges
to sustain me;

Life turns capriciously on the unsuspecting,
contrasting signals drifting into awareness
as though conveyed along scattering winds,
yet in one stroke, certain odors bear gifts
both past and present, sliding the doors
of time like slices of glass under a microscope,
shifting blueprints of existence, mysterious cards
in a gypsy’s hand shuffling once, twice,
imparting significance to the present moment
only to calibrate again to situation and experience
as time extends itself into infinity.

“…Magnolia blossoms fill the air and if you ain’t been to heaven, you ain’t been there…”
(New Orleans ~Β Guida and Royster; image: bj)

Β 

27 thoughts on “Scents of Place

  1. Vivid descriptions, Bela and I esp. love:
    ‘yet in one stroke, certain odors convey gifts
    both past and present, sliding the doors
    of time like slices of glass under a microscope’
    That is so true – in a flash, we are transported!

  2. Wonderfully crafted. The descriptions of smells bring to the fore wonderful imagery. Smell is a sense we probably don’t pay enough attention to. It’s not as important as it was for our evolutionary ancestors and what functionality it retains, tends to be ubiquitous to the point that we take it for granted. It’s a pity given how much pleasure we might derive from aromas. Given the link between memory and smell, it also amazes me how powerful a smell can suddenly feel when it triggers the emotions associated with a memory.

    1. Aloha Swarn, and thanks for the compliment. It’s so interesting that you give evidence for the olfactory, as I, too take it for granted. It was only a mandate from a writers’ group I’ve been part of for many years now to write on Smells. And I won’t say it wasn’t challenging!

      That said, I can rattle off a dozen scents that leap to mind, from food to flowers, that flesh out images in my mind. And these always do trigger memories and emotions. Gardenias I grew up with. The first time I smelled and tasted Indian food. More. And yet more. The complexities of odors could fill volumes.

      Thanks for taking time to offer input! ❀

  3. As Swarn says, and as we’ve come to expect of you, a wonderfully crafted piece, dear Bela, rippling sensuous as only you know how. And yes, the olfactory factor, that most evocative of the physical senses, perhaps? H ❀

    1. You are ever kind, my friend. Glad you enjoyed this little offering.

      It’s interesting you believe the olfactory to be the most evocative of the senses. Considering it, you might well be correct, though hearing music or wind; seeing a dog that looks like a long-lost companion or a sunset; observing hula danced to the most soulful Hawaiian music – well, I cannot choose. They all pique my emotions and evoke a reaction. Since I came into this world with all my switches on, it can be challenging to write about just one. Since themes were chosen for our Renshi poetry group’s current cycle, I hatched this out in response to “Scents.” Aloha, sweet one. ❀

    1. Mahalo, Betty. Yes, smell is something I rather take for granted. I believe Swarn has an interesting comment about it. I’m so visual, but of course my sense of smell is acute as well. A small group of women I’ve written with for years here on the island suggested themes for our current rounds of Renshi. And so here is my offering, slightly modified to exclude Hawaiian words most wouldn’t know. πŸ™πŸ½πŸ’“

      1. Seems I’ve always been super sensitive to smells, though I too have taken this sense for granted. Swarn’s comment is interesting, and it’s so true how fragrances can take us back decades. There’s one men’s cologne that still takes me back 50+ years to my highschool boyfriend. Ha! πŸ™‚ )

  4. I so enjoyed this poem Bela.

    “certain odors bear gifts
    both past and present, sliding the doors
    of time like slices of glass under a microscope,
    shifting blueprints of existence, “…

    Wonderfully descriptive words my friend.. Fragrance often sends us back in time to a moment we hold forever in the blueprints of memory..
    Beautiful poetry Bela.. ❀

    1. So glad you derived pleasure from reading this, Sue. I don’t give the olfactory nearly enough due in this life, but it’s so important to me! Obviously, because my entire yard is interspersed with beautiful and fragrant flowers! After decades of planting food, food, food – I told myself well, that is easy and cheap enough to obtain here from farmers markets. What I really want (other than abundant fruit trees, which are now maturing after 4 years in the same spot) is FLOWERS! Beauty! Fragrance! Pikake, Stephanotis, gardenia varieties galore, Paklan (Michaelea), and lavender, rosemary, Citronella – and even the ever-blossoming citrus and more – so lovely! Such smells to come home to! ❀️

  5. This is a fantastic piece Bela…I have never ventured into the garden of fragrances though they are a part of our life, some pleasant, others not so but they have never inspired me to bind them into such a beautiful imagery as you have done. One unforgettable smell that immediately comes to my mind is that of first rain falling on dust (my ‘gift from the past’) but it is often blown away by the breeze that accompanies it and all I remember to pen down is the wonder of falling drops and their soothing effect.

    1. Aloha Balroop, thanks for your raindrops memory. Can smell the rain in your comments!

      I had not written much about scent before; it really was a bit challenging. It was an exercise put forth by our longtime poetry group here on the island. And it’s so …. evident! In everyday living, for me. From flowers to the food I prepare. I’m always sniffing, sniffing – whether it be clothing to put in the hamper or dogs needing a bath πŸ˜‰ Thanks for taking time to comment! ❀

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