Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Air Full of Spices

—Anonymous Photo of Cinnamon Bark
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


            The air is full of spices.
                        —Alan Rickman, in
Sense and Sensibility

A tutor I like speaks quite shrewdly of cinnamon.
Some self-proclaimed expert talker on flora has opinions
on this special kind of cinnamon made from bark: our tutor
retorts, Amazing what people who know nothing will claim.
Oh she knows her cinnamon: All cinnamon comes from bark,
and my mind’s mouth closes on this morning’s savor
that rose with trumpet efflorescence upon rice and then faded,
as do love-names inscribed knifepoint into manzanita bark,
or, for that matter, in cinnamon tree bark, as the names
heal till knife-names are no more emblems than is the tongue’s
ephemerally adopted cinnamon powder, dissolving.
We speak of Peet’s Coffee: recognizing in her a young sibyl,
I muse aloud on how my introduction to Peet’s was Shakespeare
in Berkeley. The night chill, Richard II in John Hinkel Park,
the muted, edged first velvet of Peet’s against my taste buds.
Her rejoinder: The conditions were just right
for it to be better than it actually was. That’s right,
that’s true; but oh how she speaks of cinnamon.
I fully expect she’s enlightened about sin in man,
sin in woman, and can descant richly thereof.
My half an eye on Wallace Stevens, my other
three halves on the fellow at her side, who hopes
to study profoundly those precise spices she’s read up on.  

 —Anonymous Photo, Cinnamon Trees

(Artur Rubinstein, piano virtuoso)


Artur Rubinstein, your hands fascinate:
large hands for the keyboard, hands formed generous
for playing works of the über-Romantic great,
your “very noble and approved good masters”;

large-handed too in the sense by which we rate
that magnanimity which without fuss
presides over steady good luck and smiling fate,
endowed to condole, bestow, when life’s disasters

conspire against us poor, of stubbier fingers.
Like other grand artists, you ruled as potentate,
your scepter your frame’s sheer potency; seduced;

you blamed; comported your child-self irate
with your own children; damage that this day lingers. 
Large-handed, hot-handed, great-souled by turns. Confused?

Poulenc, Milhaud, Heitor Villa-Lobos, you brought
to light by that genius you indulged and fought.


Your party piece was Salomé, for money:
The whole avant-garde opera on piano
For lovers of music, or of the illicit honey
Found inside that cactus of an “obscene” show.
Index of your character, your trawling
With Chaliapin for fresh prostitutes.
Yet deep in your nature truthfulness in brawling
Suavely for new music, for the astutes
Of Modernist art: Picasso, Szymanowski,
Chagall, Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, Ravel.
You’re born to adore any body sexually
Gifted, gifted yourself with that remote
Sweet touch that attracts her to pleasurable hell.
Slight evil, an étude mainly of black notes. 

 —Anonymous Photo of Cinnamon Tree Leaves, Autumn

     (Smithson & Cohen)

Bax, you surely read the Memoirs of Berlioz.
Odd if you do not recognize his wit
and easiness via the pen to utter it,
a raconteur whose mind flows much as yours flows.
Each of you bedeviled by Harriet:
great Hector lost in love of a young Irish
actress (Irish: one contact point more yet),
iconic, somewhat inchoate Ophelia, childish
bawdry and innocence: Harriet’s Mad Scene
scores her eidolon indelibly in his obsession;
you know a sensualist’s rapture and listless anguish:
your Tanya’s consumption heaps her with despair and spleen.
For you, sterile Lake Geneva. Death’s inception?  

 —Anonymous Photo of Cinnamon Berries

(British conductor, 1893-1962)

Peculiar, the leavings of an artist’s life,
especially if that life is musical:
Great Britain owns a devout Musicians’ Chapel
to enshrine creative surmounters of the strife
involved in cathedral-building of sorts, black notes
on paper white or ecru. One such was you,
Sir Eugene Goossens, now a mere name that floats
in Internet ether. So much more is due

than that embroidered kneeler in the church
though lovely trim with your name and one of your themes.
You led a life forever in restive search:
composer, conductor, inspirer of dreams
in other brethren of your harmonic guild: a fanfare
by Copland; the Sydney Opera House; such schemes
realized in part by your influence brought to bear
on sketches, doodles, or mote-crammed sunbeams.

Brought down by Australian Customs: evidence
of witches’ covens and exotic sex.
You might be novelized expressly to vex
our #MeToo movements. Were there informed consents
in each of your extramarital sojourns?
Whatever the 1956 climate, you suffered;
even a maestro—or he especially—burns
knowing, cashiered from status, no one’s buffered.

You so lately rejected—nonetheless, powers
that govern broadcasts over the BBC
deem, rightly, none else can baton adroitly
a composition scathing as meteor showers
without our atmosphere’s protective skin:
your dear friend Arnold Bax’s Second Symphony.
Your broadcast acetates brim with sympathy
for that work’s rarely relenting drive, its din
and discord fitfully relieved by lyric
that grapples lovely against preordained death,
death not only of all intaken breath,
but death to render beauty’s resilience Pyrrhic.
You press and press at high velocity
the BBC Symphony, strings and winds at strain,
yet nowhere a line crossed into unthinking ferocity.
The late composer’s revived in heart and brain,

yet I think most of your early image, the photograph
of someone even more urbane than Bax:
his crispest suit looks woven of straw and flax
alongside your bladed trouser creases—and spats.


(from Arnold Bax’s Overture, Elegy, and Rondo

Like late Beethoven, John Barbirolli said,
conducting your Elegy in honor of Vaughan Williams.
Pure sonic experiment, that’s what he implied:
the soft tambourine tap conveys just how vermilions,
mauves, cosmic twilight lilacs retrieved from the furnace
bathe in occult suspension, rhythmic, not plush,
albeit the harp insists on seraphic hush.
Sonorous melancholiac trombones earn this
composition its keynote, post-Gothic Tomb.
Up from the graveyard piercing crypts and cerements
steal indistinct figures through groves of woodwind gloom,
not cliché stage ghosts. A pair of clarinets
intones your lullaby worthy the brothers Grimm:
uncertain-sung pages decaying, a pitch-stained hymn…


Today’s LittleNip:
I miss your silent stature, your avoided days of disaster, your present state of distress. I’m cinnamon, cloves and fire, you are the rested cedar wood of desire.

—Coco J. Ginger


Our thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine, spicy and musical poetry! For more about growing your own cinnamon, go to


 —Anonymous Photo of Cinnamon Rolls
(Who Can Resist!)
Celebrate the poetry of the senses!

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.