Saturday, July 18, 2009

while we're on the subject...

The Cinnamon Peeler
-Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grasscutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me.



Blogger Teresa said...

Love this poem, Murat. Thanks for sharing. I just love the smell of cinnamon. (and it's a very potent yang strengthener in Chinese medicine)

3:39 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: One of my favorite novels of all time is Ondaatje's short Coming Through Slaughter, which presaged my time in New Orleans by about 9 years. Best known for his The English Patient, but he is one awesome and sensuous poet, too. "The Cinnamon Peeler" was, I think, the title poem to an entire collection I read a few years back.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

One of the women in our library group read and reported on The English Patient several years back. That was during the multi-generational Chinese family in America phase, and I was hard pressed to find time and quiet space to read serious literature. When the school work lightens up, I may go looking for it. Right now I'm reading Pierre Bourdieu's "The Field of Cultural Production". Or perhaps I should say slogging through...

10:57 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I did indeed like TEP, but Coming Through Slaughter is still my favorite. Don't let the title scare you: works on several levels, including the name of a Louisiana town.

11:03 PM  
Blogger anno said...

I'm gonna have to give Ondaatje another try: his prose has always scared me off by seeming all slow heat and heavy humidity; this poem, though, is gorgeous. Nice to see it here.

9:05 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: I know what you mean about Ondaatje's humidity: leftover, no doubt, from his being born in Sri Lanka (Ceylon, at the time?). He tends to pull me into his jungle trance, though I can' say that, overall, he is a favorite of mine. Still, Coming Through Slaughter, which a very slim volume, is (to me) a masterpiece, and definitely a Top 10 Book.

8:13 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno, Part II: I wouldn't start with Ondaatje anywhere else. If CTS doesn't do it, nothing will.

8:14 PM  

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