Thursday 7 January 2016

Poetry: 'Balms' by Amy Clampitt


Hemmed in by the prim

deodorizing stare

of the rare-book room,

I stumbled over,

lodged under glass, a

revenant ‘Essay on Color’

by Mary Gartside, a woman

I’d never heard of, open

to a hand-rendered

watercolor illustration

wet-bright as the day

its unadulterated red-

and-yellow was laid on

(publication date 1818).

Garden nasturtium hues,

the text alongside

explained, had been

her guide. Sudden as

on hands and knees

I felt the smell of them

suffuse the catacomb

so much of us lives in-

horned, pungent, velvet-

eared succulence, a perfume

without hokum, the intimate

of trudging earthworms

and everyone’s last end’s

unnumbered, milling tenants.

Most olfactory experience

either rubs your nose

in it or tries to flatter

with a funeral home’s

approximation of such balms

as a theology of wax alone

can promise, and the bees

deliver. Mary Gartside

died, I couldn’t even

learn the year. Our one

encounter occurred by chance

where pure hue set loose

unearthly gusts of odor

from earthbound nasturtiums.

Amy Clampitt, 1980

nasturtium, and bee september 2015 hill farm

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