First Ode: The Problem of Setting
i. Not a flower. Not a smell. Not a word, although the word helps. Not a hunch of mountain, an efflorescence just erupted in the bush, or weather. Not a music with the voice threaded under the saxophone so that it surfaces once. Not a tree. Not the thin spit coming from a beak puncture in the black maple’s heart. Not a heart, although it has one. Not a love, although it can. Not an it, although the word works for others. Not an other. Not a population, precision, or generality; four legs in dirt or transfixed vision, green ash on the pond surface, the heron; not the ability to know, although it knows to know. Not an animal. Not a woman. Not a nudity or fur or texture. Not water or anything to live by. Not a world, although it eats world. Not in time, not clocks or hours, although it dies, by another name, according to schedule. Not the ability to stop, to regrow, to return although it takes and takes. Not a home. Not a way of saying. Not a real thing. Not mind. Not mind. ii. These are not your legs, your ways of saying hello. Insert birdcall, the one that comes most easily to ear. What will my novel be about? Turtle dove. Your voice, impossible to transmit reel to reel, must be symbolized. Through a window I see your profile opening and closing in order to talk about abstracted water, oil, word, word. The problem of color is a problem of world. I say she was blue. You are not. The reader makes a picture out of the love most ready to hand: bed, window, the morning of this hour and day, a bird, this real bird. To explain the plot I will gesture with raised hands when suddenly, from behind me, an imaginary animal yawns, learns to speak. The words let go of your hand, fly to mine: paper-light, immaterial. Have you reached the scene where nothing happens? She is on the edge of a field, wearing a yellow dress. Justice can only ever be done to a part: you, her version of you, my eye, the field like crumpled parchment. The scar on the under of your chin is unusual enough to exist, and yet now that I look for it, all I find is my nominal, scar, but no scar. A body fits inside a word, one word: you. Here, insert character. Insert name. World, by the time I begin to write, how far are you from my words? iii. Did you know future time constitutes this world? If mankind had died before Newton named gravity, all the apples would still fall down. The name time is alien to the material it implies. Have you ever seen morning happen for no one? Is there a mustard seed in the house of a family where no one has died? Riddles are important; they trick the human back into cells. The answer requires a different biology. But don’t despair. If you cannot, at least the stones will know. Although the alchemists failed, they did make gold.
My tarot cards never warn against revelation. They slump their flat bodies into the pentagram of a more ambiguous future: on my way into a town a dead squirrel painted on the road, the space heater breaking two weeks before spring, friends, that when they go to sleep, become things. Perhaps if I had drawn the cards with my eyes closed, no view from the porch in mind, no mind at all, the thing shown would have been a better divination. I was born under Sagittarius, a bow strung tightly with its anchors in the right lobe of my gray matter and, the other, in the tailbone. I am the flexed stick: originally an oak tree, originally rain-swollen pith, originally the seed that would become a bow. Every infant is branded redly with a sign. This is a consequence of getting born. I can’t trust any prophet, not even my own animal; a red-tailed hawk appears repeatedly on fences, telephone poles. I am unready for totems. Can’t even recognize the symbolism of my own nose reflected every time I turn towards a window. But tonight, no fear of the oracle, no oracle in mind, I walk to the bus stop in order to get somewhere. Too many stars apparent on the horizon to mean anything but clutter; the Queen of Pentacles card used to mark the page in a book where the good poetry lives. No need of a future, I stick my hands in my pocket, lean my neck against the breeze. In quick succession the streetlamp goes out with a guttural buzz and a firedrake cuts across the sky. It’s a shock, a revelation, the news I’ve been waiting for and it means tomorrow will be exactly the same; the cards pulled will only ever spell my name.
back when god was a smell, I was a dog
There are no wise men, only wise dogs. They follow trees, bark down the big gods, turn mountains into scat, warm leaf mulch. All belief is monochromatic: pulped into smells, linden in late June, realization of perpetual death, chrysanthemum made with the same symbol for powdered skeleton, in scent shown as sharp intake of breath, then regret. The bitch that died in the kennel next to me had coal spots in the eyes. Dreaming in smell, praying in beads of sweat around the garden in the armpit. New rosaries produced hormonally in the holy gland. Moraine like fennel, like mother. Same aroma as nakedness. Ash in the snow bank, I know the nose is the surest direction towards the star that tells the odor of the wet place marked by black mold, myrrh, blocked air, afterbirth. Must I practice bouquet? The banquet is in the wind. Wag the tail. Point north. Now, men pretend they are dogs following trees, converting smells into sight, watching the yellow hands of dusk, calling them a yellow king. Worse, they call it gold, or god, never knowing what a color smells like, what a mother’s skin does in fresh mud; how the funk of lust could be painted as a red circle over a black sky which is the same as the sign for the stink of a January fire: wood smoke caught in wool underwear, unspeakable. Patiently, these translations utter themselves as a season. For every god there is a smell. For every man with his head in the dung heap a bible is written in particulate mildew hanging as a halo above the compost. The dog goes low to the ground, follows invisible blood, nude undulations of rot in the earth like the roots of mushrooms that will lead him back to the place where the virgin sweated, stunk, heaved mightily an imprint of her odor: plump, rose meat, fish salt. The first sense grows alert to the entrance of a perfume: white hand, crushed violet, the smell of a moving tongue, god when he was a smell, dogs when they were wise and began in earnest to scent the prey and practice, with moist suctions of snout and mouth, the hunting of messiahs.
Sophie Strand is a ghost writer living in the Catskills. She has published poems in Entropy, Persephone's Daughters, Your Impossible Voice, Metambesen, PAPERS, and The Doris. Oread Press published her first chapbook Love Song to a Blue God in the spring of 2017. She is passionate about herbalism, medieval saints, and ecopoetics.