After a while, I noticed
the lavender, its scent, not the fact
of lavender as a plant yet, just
the smell of lavender in the air,
a sweet scent, but deep, rich with the weediness
of the true herbs, pulled from the meadows, from
dry rocky soil, and expelling their fragrance
before their taste attached itself to food,
taste and scent being the same thing differently
experienced. Lavender is the scent sometimes
of hand lotion so that I might smell it
in the air, as if a natural scent of the earth.
My parents loved lavender as a color,
claiming it their chosen color, but
they said nothing to me of its scent.
I was walking these streets in Washington,
DC, northwest, where I used to live, and the night
was dark and shadowy. A residential area, so
it reminded me of my old neighborhood on Fessenden Street,
and I was walking, in the evening, because I prefer
to walk in the evening, in the dark, when I can see
too little and others can see even less of me.
I like to walk in the heat so that I sweat and
my shirt sticks to me. I like to walk after a rain
when the earth seems to be sweating with me.
Walking these streets, I remembered my home in DC,
and I remembered another walk I’d made here
on the other side of Rock Creek Park. I was ten and some injustice
had struck me, coming somehow from my family. My solution
was to leave home, to begin a walk towards Maryland,
first to Chevy Chase, which was not too many blocks away, but
with Bethesda as my goal, though Bethesda was no more
than a name to me, a word to head towards, not even
a concept. At this time, the seventeen-year locusts
were living their brief lives, and the world was loud and
covered with locusts. They were on the trees, on the sidewalks,
in the bushes, and I could not avoid killing any
no matter how carefully I walked. I carried one with me,
as a pet, for many blocks and maybe back home, but
the poor insect was slowly dying, its life simply
ending. I walked through a world crazy with the sounds
of locusts, I walked past the store where I bought nickel sundaes,
the street where I peeked up at a full eclipse of the sun, past
the bank where I would turn in my rolled pennies
for folding money, and I walked past down streets
my grandfather has walked, confused, when his dementia
had totally overtaken him. The police looked for me
but could not find me, and I eventually made it home.
That was forty years ago, maybe to the day, but I think
it was probably earlier in the year. The night was like tonight,
though no-one asked me if my parents knew where I was.
And no-one stopped me tonight, as no-one had stopped
my ten-year-old self so many years ago. The streetlights
and shadow, the houses, even the smell of the wet ground
reminded me of that walk I had made as a child and
reminded me how little I have traveled, how I am
always still trying to find my way somewhere, maybe home,
maybe somewhere else I want to be.
I felt almost disoriented to find myself
in one of my homes, in a place so familiar to me,
so similar to an old neighborhood. As I walked,
I took pictures of the shadows, so that I might remember
them, so that I might remember how I once was,
where I once was, where I once was going,
aimless, but determined, into the night, as if
a walk could lead a human body anywhere
In the end, I walked over many blocks only
to walk back to the hotel. The air was still
filled with lavender, though only in spots, the air
was still moist, and water lay in puddles
on the ground and on the cupped leaves of
overhanging trees. My head brushed those leaves
a couple of times, and I was baptized by the night.
It was cool water, refreshing against my warm wet
I sit in this hotel room, writing you
this poem, which is more prosaic than poetic,
which is simply a letter to you after so many
years without a letter, and I think that you would
be amused or dismayed by this room, which is
designated a handicapped room, but which a wheelchair could
barely fit in, and it is worse in the bathroom. From what
we can see, there are two changes to this room
that give it its status: 1. The list of hotel rules is posted
quite low on the back of the door to the room, and
2. the shower head is too low to do us much good
and too high to be much good for someone
sitting in the bathroom.
It seems the world is not constructed
precisely for us, and that we are required to remake it.
For this reason, I am always looking for
the scent of lavender.