I think it might be lavender mixed with a little lemon zest. The memory of how you smell still lingers in me. Who’d have guessed? Perhaps you. Certainly not I, my memories now are hidden. I think I lost them in the dust of the desert years I’ve ridden. All by myself, but not alone, Imagination rode there, too. A third shadow sometimes appeared, so suspiciously shaped like you. When it cast itself on the sand the desert would begin to bloom. Instead of the dust and dried sage, the air was filled with your perfume. At least that’s what I could recall as each sundown you rode away. Even sleep would leave me alone all night as I daydreamed you’d stay. Now I’m old, and rely upon your grace for any second chance to leave loneliness just once more, and between us its vast expanse. That’s all I ask, just to get close, close enough to finally see if lavender and lemon were what you wore, or hopeful fantasy. Since I’m a day behind, I combined two prompts today -- a second chance poem and one using the sense of smell.
They tell me that the most powerful of the senses in terms of stimulating memories is smell. I believe that’s true, since my hearing went the way of my youth years ago.
And now my memory’s hard of hearing, too.
When even your memory loses its power to hear, let me tell you, you’ve got a problem. Or at least I do.
There are a few reasons I can’t hear anymore.
One, I’m old. Retired from the news business, the newsPAPER one where everyone read your work product behind their coffee each morning.
Two, I spent a lot of time listening to music in headphones while I worked. Turned up to 11, as they say. Plus, I spent a lot of time in the paper’s back shops watching — and, I suppose, listening — to the news being rendered onto erstwhile forests between the rollers of great mechanical transcribers of inky truth.
And three, I could never hear very well to begin with. Hence, the aforementioned headphone volume, which now I turn up to 15 or so via Bluetooth and electronic hearing aid magic as it shouts into the semi-useless holes where Bose headphones once howled.
And what does all this info dump have to do with scenting a memory?
Because I can’t remember Nicole’s voice.
I told you my memory’s lost its hearing, too.
Sure, I can sit on a mountain and look down onto a forest that missed out on feeding the news machines back in the Seventies and hear the wind strum the pines and the birds chant their matins in real time through my hearing aids. But even if I couldn’t, I can “hear” the music of Nature on some recording that I pump from my phone through these $4,000 miracles sitting in my ears. So even if I forgot the difference between a tweeting titmouse and a babbling brook, science can make the connection for me.
But recalling the timbre and music I found in the voice of the love of my almost-silent and forgetful life? That I can’t pull from some crusty fold in my gray matter. And I have to. I need to hear her tell my imagination I’ll be okay when that door opens and the light in the next room plays our song and I click my heels (I can hear that now) and say “There’s no place like home.”
And if home is where the heart is, then my next home will be with Nicole, because that’s where my heart’s been for thirty years.
Right now, when I think of her, I can see her pretty face, feel her warmth breath against my ear. But when she speaks to me, all I can hear is some generic placeholder of human sound. An Alexa or Siri voice that’s nowhere near as pretty as that face or warm as the life she breathed into me. I need that or my way out of this life will be as sad and silent as her grave.
We met on the job, both of us spoken for at the time, but we almost immediately found our voices stimulating some kind of vibration only we could perceive. I would say we were tuned to our own frequency, upon which sentences would abruptly stop somewhere before the next necessary inhalation, but the message would continue and be understood.
“Hey, do you want to…” I’d whisper behind her as she typed away at her desk.
She’d cut me off and whisper back, “No, but how ‘bout we…”
“Yeah, I like it there. Good i…,”
“I thought you would,” she’d say, smile that smile, and then get up and head back to the shop to check out some galleys for Thursday’s edition.
The print shop is where Nicole told me she was leaving. At first, I didn’t understand, the printers’ smudging her voice like her tears smudged her mascara. She pulled me close and placed her mouth right next to my ear and told me how she had to go, since her husband had been transferred.
The newspaper had already found her a position, a promotion no less, at their sister publication in the same city where her husband was going.
Then she kissed me, said, “I’ll talk to you later,” and hustled out to the office. Our city editor made the announcement right after that, pulled out a bottle of sparkling something and everyone toasted to her success. Except me. I stayed in the print shop trying to pull my stomach off the floor.
When I left the shop, she’d already gone. My cubicle-mate pointed to my face and asked what the black stuff was on my cheek. I knew, but I told him it was ink from the shop.
I never heard Nicole’s voice again. Not in person, nor on the phone. I received a bunch of letters, which became emails and then some Christmas and birthday cards and then nothing.
Her obit ran four years ago. No one at the paper by now knew who she was. I didn’t exactly know whose face it was in the photo the company ran with her story. The toll of those quiet years and the onset of my dementia, I guess. She probably wouldn’t recognize me either.
But I have old photos and some sweet selective memories where she’s as near perfect as my imagination chooses to remember. But I don’t have her voice.
Couple of months ago, I pulled a bottle of bubbly something from the fridge and filled a glass to toast Nicole like I never did the first time she left me behind. And as I watched those bubbles rise and (I assume) fizz and pop at the wine’s surface, the idea came to me.
The aroma of the wine reminded me of the night she left. And I thought maybe there was something else that might remind me of the sound of her voice.
So I stole my daughter’s Mazda (don’t tell her) and drove out to the old-timey Linotype printshop on Route 7. It’s run by the son of our old shop foreman. I introduced myself and told him I was writing a story about the old days and hoped I might take a few photos of his presses as a bit of inspiration.
He agreed and walked me into his back shop where I stopped cold.
“You all right, Bud?” he asked with the look of a guy who didn’t need some old reporter dropping dead in his place of business.
“Oh, sure. It’s just that I haven’t smelled something like this, heard that, in a couple of decades.”
“Yeah, that ink smell can get to some folks. I can see how it’s getting to you, too. Let’s grab a couple of pix and get you out of here, Bud.”
“I appreciate it, son. Could you get me a cup of water over there?” I choked out.
So I have those photos and a decent memory of the sound of a roaring press. But every night I can hear Nicole again whenever I pull out and take a deep sniff of the cleaning rag, still full of ink and oil, that I snuck into my pocket while that young fella was at the water cooler.
“I can’t believe you really…”
“Yes, Nicole, if I ever was going to hear your voice again, I had…”
“Okay, Bud. Did you see…?”
“Oh, that is quite a bright…”
“It’ll be all right. Been waiting for…”
After a lot of sputters, stops and no starts, I sat down with no expectations and tackled the prompt of Hearing in Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks, Six Senses. program. Had to use that photo up there, as well as two other. And, so lie me, my Hearing story hinged on the sense of Smell. This is a first-draft hope and a prayer. But it’s a thing where nothing was before.
Because it’s been awhile, here’s how our next first time might go: I will take your hand, palm-up, and circle my fingertips on yours, feeling for the corduroy stutter of your unique whorls and ridges, since I want to know all about you. From there I would slide my fingers along the arroyos of your palms, disembarking at your wrists. That’s where I would flip over our forearms to softly introduce those little hairs to one another, because it’s been too long. At the bend in your arm, the backs of my fingers would climb up to your shoulders and from there traverse across to your neck, where they’d hold position until my temple rests against yours. Will you feel my pulse as I'll feel the beat of your heart sharing the warmth we’ve needed so long? I'll wait for the flutter of your eyelashes against my cheek. And if your tears might fall, I'll catch them there as if my own. When it’s time for me to step away, my hands will follow that same route back. But not home. Home is where our souls are joined, whether near or far, as they reach to touch feelings we thought lost, but have returned, as we always do.
Let’s talk about today, or maybe tomorrow, but not After. We both know After may not be. The only things of which we can be certain are Before and Now. I need taste the warmth of a touch, hear the brush of skin between us, see the rise and fall of pin-prick bumps radiating like ripples from where stone touched water and you touch me. What I wish is to sit close, our hands entwined, our shoulders kissing and heads resting against one another, exchanging warmth and thoughts of this uncomplicated contentment. Because right Now it’s been a lifetime of Before this for me and probably feels like a lifetime for you. And to think of After is like reaching out for comfort from a curl of smoke. Being in the moment has always been hard for me, except while I'm doing what you just read. Spent my life ping-ponging between worry about what I did before and paralyzed by what might happen after. I don't have time for that anymore.
Sitting in the dark, the stage lights reflecting back on our faces, competing with the music for spaces where our senses hold sway. Walking back after the show, the warmth of your hand touching mine, a whiff of perfume charged by a hint of your sweat fill my head with sensation and sight from somewhere other than my eyes. Later, feeling your form tucked up against me there in the darkness, I notice the pillow next to mine is missing when I reach out, only to find the cold empty place where it should be. I’m forced to admit that’s who’s in my arms. The arms, the hands, the eyes and ears which will never have the strength to embrace you like my imagination does. Yet I am never without you. It is my greatest strength, thank God. It is my greatest weakness, damn it. For Day 4 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day journey I was asked to write an "active" poem. Let's face it, for the past year (oh, definitely YEARS), the most active part of me has been my imagination. And even THAT has been locked down and laid up...a lot. Nevertheless, here's the latest exercise my active imagination and I sweated out. Happy Easter, everyone!
I wish I could see what I used to see, my sight of that sight now fading. But that’s just my eyes peering into the void where once some body stood. I’ll admit that I probably saw better from the corners of these windows to my soul, but that’s because I hardly ever look at you straight-on, for, to do so, would allow you to see me. I wish I could hear what I used to hear, the soundness of my hearing now smothered so. But that’s just my ears, useful only for holding up my glasses for these shy eyes that can’t see some body anyway. Isn’t it odd that I saw best when my ears faced you and I heard best when we were face to face, the better to focus on not much more than your lips? But what does it matter? I always see you best when I close my eyes and hear you well enough when I pull the wires from my ears. Then, some body's youth never fades like my senses, as I fumble around the corners of recollection in this haunted house between my shoulders, searching for one more sniff, taste, or touch.
Am I blind, since I can’t see you these days?
Not even in my mind’s eye can I find you.
Where once there was at least a blurry haze,
not a shadow’s left, which your outline drew.
Am I deaf, since I do not hear your voice
even in dreams where once we laughed and talked?
In my sightless world, there’s nary a noise
that I might find you by the steps you’ve walked.
I’m cold-fact sure I’ve lost my sense of touch,
when out I reach to once more feel your skin.
With no sight, nor hearing, that leaves not much
with which I might find you and that’s a sin.
So now I exist in this empty shell;
without you’s not life, just a living hell.
I was asked not too long ago to write something about deep loss, since it might as well be my métier. And, to tell you the truth, the losses I’ve experienced in the last year have stopped up the drip-drop of inspiration I’ve been able to wring out of the dry seabed of my imagination. But today I give you this, another rhyming sonnet, something I never really liked to do. But just like how we never can tell who we’ll love and who we’ll lose, sometimes something comes along to cut you and some other kind of drip-drop hits the page.
It never registered, back when
I stood in the middle of the world,
and absorbed it in every detail.
I’m sure I saw Grandma
and some old nuns lose contact
with what occurred around them
or even right in front of them.
But now I view the world through
the foggy mail slot of glaucoma.
The sounds of birds, the wind,
the waves and your voice are muffled
by the pillows of hearing loss.
In don’t feel these lettered keys
with a few of my fingertips ever since
that disc in my neck blew out in ’90.
My diet restrictions dole out
flavors as if boiled cardboard boxes
are the last of the world’s diet.
Allergic rhinitis can close my nose
like a kink in a garden hose.
I only list these things because
I can see you smiling at me,
hear your voice and our music
as if we’re again sitting together
in the dark, smell your perfume,
feel your cheek and taste your kiss.
My sense of imagination shines brighter,
rings louder, feels warmer,
smells lovelier and tastes sweeter
than anything I can remember,
if I’m even remembering these things
in the first place. What’s that?
Day #7 of April PAD 2018 calls for a senses poem. My once super senses have been dulled considerably by disease, age and lack of care. That’ll teach teen (and older) me to blast Led Zeppelin, Seeger, and Waylon through my headphones at jet engine decibels. But even with these losses, I’ve been gifted with another sense that will have to carry me through to my next life, my next chance rapaciously consume the world’s every sight, sound, touch, aroma and taste. Though you’re looking particularly nice today from this seat.
Whenever I hear any songs
we listened to that night,
I almost think of you.
These years’ve smeared so much
of my memories, it’s as if
I smudged your pastel portrait.
I regret those tunes we heard
(my knee clumsily nodding against yours)
no longer mine the treasure of your face,
sniff the essence of your perfume,
feel your cheek’s softness glowing
warm against mine,
nor hear your chiming laugh.
See, I never switch off those songs
lest my insensate memory lose
the taste of your mouth I stole,
and ran away with in a sack
made of pounding heartbeats.
Here’s the last, for now, of my exercise in using one sense to takes on the role of another. I don’t think I really succeeded in this piece, where Hearing takes over for Taste. But the poem, a free write fiction, stands on its own decently enough for a first-draft 100-worder. So there ya go.
“You’ve got to eat something,”
she said after plying me
with enough tea, soup, broth,
seltzer water, still water
(I even snuck a beer back to bed
on one of my many bathroom runs)
that my stomach sloshed like
a half-full bucket as I rolled away
from her in a miserable display
of modern millennial manhood.
“Doh,” I said. “Dot huggry,
add it dudt make a diff’red.
Cadt s’bell so evry-thid id
gray fladdel id by bowth.”
Congestion robbed smell from
my sensory toolbox converting eating
to a fruitless (literally) exercise
in deciphering gustatory Braille.
It also robbed me of my bed,
these virus germs and I banished
to another room where we laid and
played jazz oboe all night.
As Day Six dawned and I cracked
the crust off my eyes and the
white-caned mucilage off my tongue,
a pot of coffee and pan of sausage
tossed five of their seven veils
in sinewy dance over the transom
to my left nostril and I
slavishly slippered my way toward
their sizzling seductive stage.
My meek effort, was soon rewarded
with a tasteful tease of tomorrow’s
production number of spaghetti
and sweet Italian salsicce,
I requested in sotto voce,
“Two eggs scrabbled, couple dohs
piggies add sub of that coffee,
two sugars, plead.” My taste buds
and I, Lazarus-like, had reemerged
from the stone-rolled sepulchers
of my sinuses and so, to new life…
Day Four of my mini-arc of one sense taking over the role of another sense. Not sure I hit that mark here, Smell and Taste so closely affiliated, but it’s written and a little fun. One more to go…maybe.