Friday, April 13, 2012

Incense and Peppermints*

Last year I remember a post in which I talked about how early the honeysuckle bloomed in the field behind our apartment complex, and how languid the smell made me feel. This year we had almost no winter, and the weather has been very warm, we've also had enough rain that our region of Texas has been lifted officially out of its drought. The honeysuckle is particularly thick this year-more so than last. When Abigail and I walk back there in the evening, the fragrance makes me wish I were a better poet. There is something about the words of a poet that do more justice to that perfume than a blogger or essayist. Although I think I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said, "I am so coarse, the things the poets see are obstinately invisible to me. For twenty years I've stared my level best to see if evening, any evening, would suggest a patient etherized upon a table. In vain. I'm just not able." I've thought the smell could be described as something like wine, but it is really heavier-more like a liqueur. When the creek behind all that vegetation is full, and humidity and gnats are abundant, it sometimes reminds me of a languid, Gothic movie set in the bayous of Louisiana, where there is almost always Voodoo afoot, and willows and cypress knees give a foreboding look to set the mood of the story! But I can't even take that idea and make it into a poem.

I've considered going out and taking pictures of these bushes, heavy with flowers, they are certainly beautiful, but that would not be my words expressing their beauty. In viewing, they speak for themselves, only without the incense, which makes the sensuality of the experience possible. This afternoon as we walked, the bushes were covered with a plethora of black and orange butterflies. They weren't monarchs, but they had the same coloring. Butterflies on a bush would hint that the perfume attracted them, wouldn't they? But I didn't have my camera, and still would not feel I had the power or skill to convey what that vision made me feel. On the walk back, instead of the numerous black and orange butterflies, I saw one very large, solid black one that really caught my eye. He (or she) was alone. It made me sad about the stories I've read, more than once, including once this very week, about how black dogs and cats living at shelters have a harder time getting adopted. I thought of Ralph Ellison's metaphor in "The Invisible Man" in which the character Kimbro teaches the narrator that in order to make white paint really bright, add a drop of black paint.  How is it that great writers are able to explain the connectedness of all things in ways that can  stay with us in such powerful ways? It was probably thirty years ago when I took American Literature classes in college, and that one point from that book still resonates with me. I have at least three teachers, one high school and two college, to whom I am more grateful for the reactions I have to great writing than I could ever express.  Just thinking about them on this warm humid evening, when my walk takes me back to that place of the liqueur perfume, and it makes me want to run to the local animal shelter and adopt all the black dogs.

*Song title by band Strawberry Alarm Clock1966 
Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis, "A Confession"
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot, 1920
"The Invisible Man," novel, Ralph Ellison 1952