Perfume Of The Soul


Long ago,

under California’s summer sun,

I came to love you.


I was too young,

you were too old,

and though I knew

I was a decoration,

I felt strength in your arms

and history in your heart,

whose rhythms murmured

under my head at midnight in

that remote, ramshackle ranch in

the valley.


Three days, maybe four

I knew peace and presence

in my twenties because of you,

the one who knew when to let go,

so that I could follow my heart

as you went free into your sunset.


I asked you for the tee-shirt you wore

the two days and two nights before I left for New York.

“I want to smell you until I return,”

I whispered in your ear, our heads on the pillow,

believing in my too young confidence

that returning was possible.


You gave me the shirt knowing

that I would not return,

would never again be the ornament whom

you had come to love more than

your judgement cautioned,

watched in resignation

as I grew beyond

any life we could inhabit together.


You knew what I did not:

your scent could not last,

because tee-shirts

have no regard for memory.


I arrived in Manhattan alone,

five hundred dollars in my wallet,

two suitcases in my arms,

and a man’s large tee

packed on top my life.


For weeks

I smelled your sweat and musk

in the cotton fibers,

until the dissolve

between scent and the memory of the scent

was imperceptible, as was

the dissolve between

when you quit calling long distance

and I knew that going back

was impossible

became certain.


I remembered you this week, for

I smelled the traces of love, innocence

and tenderness wrapped in longing, remembered those

few peaceful days in a decade

devoted to self-annihilation  of

epic proportions.


I remembered smelling your tee,

trying not to lose you

as I pressed my nose into the cotton,

remembered the inconsolable pain

of a disappearing scent,

and with it a life I knew

no longer waited for me.


This week, I smelled

the traces of love,

and I remembered you.

I finally understood that everything was

as it was meant to be.

We loved as best we could,

thinking ourselves two souls

inhabiting different lives.


But now I know we

are one Soul, that Love

is its own fragrance,

and in my inexperience

I mistook

the perfume of the Soul

for the sweat and musk on

a tee-shirt long ago





Textures Of The Unknown

This morning I took a walk, four miles at dawn to start the day.

The air still wore the wet of last night’s thunderstorm.

The road I took this morning passes a lake, the water’s edge begins a half-a-mile from my door step.  Come spring, the lake sequesters itself behind woodland growth, pines and maples and birch, and lush, variegated ground flora.  In summer, the heat, humidity, and thunderstorms that tear the sky in two create overgrown canopies of green —  moss, lichen, leaves, and needles for endless miles in all directions.  When autumn arrives, the woods bit by bit unveil the lake like a slow parting curtain, until after the winter snow and cold arrive, and the spaces born by barren trees show a lake frozen solid.

As I approached the now concealed lake, a sweetness hung heavy and thick.  A berry scent saturated the roadway for about a quarter-of-a-mile: sweet like overripe blackberries, though I suspect they were wild blueberries, for this is blueberry country.  Wild blueberries grow abundant in New Hampshire, proliferating in self-sustaining mats through seeds and the plants’ prodigious underground rhizome networks.

Today the air was dense and viscous, and the smell of syrup engulfed me.

I stopped, walked next to the road’s edge, then into the ground flora to look for the berries.  I couldn’t see them, so I turned around and continued down the road.  The smell became stronger, each step a little more soaked in honey and fruit.

Berries?  Blueberries?  Must be blueberries, I thought, though they remained invisible.

The berry fragrance was thick and ubiquitous.  Yet the berries remained hidden, unseen.

Uncertainty and invisibility.  The unknown.  Imagination’s most fertile ground.  Stories coalesced from the ether and flowed on mind’s movie screen.

One story began at the lake’s shore.  I saw beyond history’s construction, saw the glaciers that once flowed, and the land carved by ice.  I then watched the ice river’s slow-moving withdrawal.  Frozen waters receding, until only the lake remained.  The winds carried in seeds, a few found their way into the soil, and wild animals foraging brought in more seeds on their fur and in their scat.  Trees sprouted on the barren landscape, one by one.

A blueberry seed or two found its way to the water’s edge, and from those first seeds, the land became a network for blueberry mats, and the drenched smell now hitting my nose.

I saw the rhizome networks expand themselves season after season, from the lake’s edge into the woodland floor.  I saw the berries blossom, fruit, then die, year after year, until the years could no longer be counted, millennia of life and death, all from the random seeds left by the wind and a few hungry animals.

I saw Indian women walking through the woods, picking berries and leaves, digging for roots, their children helping them fill reed woven baskets, broad faces burnished by sun and work talking about teas and puddings and drying the berries for winter.  I imagined a tongue now lost, strained to hear its syllables, imagined its clacking and cadences.

A falcon cried above, and I returned to the present, and the sweetness engulfing me.  The present, the woods today.  The ether’s cinema showed me a black bear with two cubs, the mother’s muzzle pointing straight up toward the sky, allured by the air-borne smell of jam, her cubs running around her, she led them to the syrup drizzled woodland ground, her light brown nose devouring stems, while her cubs batted at flies and mosquitoes, and romped in the undergrowth.

A doe and her fawns waited, then followed the black bears, gracefully picking around what the bears left.

Slow dissolve, and a fade out.  The movies’ textures ended.

I reached the end of the road, turned around, and came home, the fragrant undiscovered sweetness permanently sticking to aeons and glaciers and Indians and bears and deer.



Grace And Strength In Charleston

Since the Charleston massacre, my Facebook feed is flooded with anger, diatribes, outrage over guns in America, fury over the Confederate flag flying in South Carolina, white privilege copiously commented on by whites, and op-ed discourses on America’s inability to transcend its history of racial violence.

While social media was (and is) in a furious meme and opine frenzy, the people who actually lost their loved ones spoke to the alleged killer:  we forgive you, God have mercy on your soul.

In doing so, those who lost their beloved family members honored the ones who did nothing but open their hearts and spiritual sanctuary to a stranger: they forgave, freely and generously.

With this act of grace, the families show a dignity and wisdom beyond our opinions, and the stranglehold of words and ideas driving the social media clamor.  They show power and personal integrity, refusing to be victims of ignorance and hate, a shimmering grace born of their faith.

Not empty platitudes or polysyllabic words on social theory, but the message of love and forgiveness, lived.

This singular triumph of uncommon strength comes written in the blood of nine human lives, and testifies to something larger than the families’ wounds, no matter how senseless and unimaginable.  The coroner “called the victims’ families ‘the most gracious group’ she has worked with” (source: ABC News).

In the families’ grace and strength, wisdom appears.


Forgiveness may not change policy, but it changes hearts and minds.

If we want a better world, one in which we move toward equality and justice, forgiveness is the necessary place to start.  Forgiveness shows love in action, the message that these families freely chose to give.  Lived love transforms diseased hearts, minds twisted in fear, and removes the blindness of ignorance and self-loathing.

Not immediately, and not in the ways we expect.  But over time, when practiced without flinching, without qualification, unconditionally.  For ourselves, and for others.

Forgiveness liberates the giver, and allows them the clarity to create purpose, and forge meaning and hope from chaos.


Charleston’s families have radically shown the way to power and social change.



Praying for their peace, and ours, in these coming days.