Being one born from human stock,
the coming together of desire and will,
certainly flesh, I would not have found
such a word for this aroma, nor votive
for the candle on my writing table,
the small flame a sleeping infant’s nursing
lips and mouth, a soft pronouncement.
And even though I lit this candle
for its promise of therapy, scent and light
against darkness, I know, of course,
that sandalwood is not the Word
the apostle John found on the Island
of Patmos, an exile of quiet, of listening—
what I seek each morning in the almost dark,
a large dog asleep on my feet as I read
my mantra, my prayer of centering—
the first five stanzas of Saint John’s gospel
singing the word of light shining in darkness,
the light that darkness could not overcome.
Homeless Michael, bearing witness from
the local newspaper article my counselor wife
slipped inside my writing tablet, calls
depression an exile of quiet all the time,
of not talking, what Michael, stationed
at the freeway turnaround, Southwest Drive,
knows to be the whole body completely going,
being nobody, being not here. Saint John,
I think, knew this condition as longing of the soul—
that which desires release from the body.
On Patmos, would he have been allowed
a candle—the hard fat of sheep, the smell
dank, matted wool filling his nostrils,
not the aroma of softened leather,
the perfumed hair of a young woman
bathing her lover’s feet in costly oil?
John would have pronounced the aroma
breath of God. Michael would have called it
sweat. He knows mental illness to be nasty,
pulling your hair out of your head. Maybe it all
depends on where you are and how
you came to be there. Patmos. City underpass.
Table with lined tablet and candle.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.