In memory of Leonard Cohen
I light a stick of Superior Aloeswood
from the box you gave me on South Tremaine
when last I visited. You’d conducted us through your new CD,
Professor Bob and myself tapping out a rhythm
on our cans of soda
while Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea
stayed back in the mix. Even as the aloeswood’s musk-sweet
drifts through my kitchen I determine
how determinedly you refused to blend
a sorrow-base with a top note of solace.
Hard to make light of Bashar al-Assad turning his bombardiers
on his own citizenry (grâce à Putin),
while our vain, vindictive Pompadour
is pushing every button
on the console. During their break at the processing plant
the Mexicans are celebrating All Souls
with chilaquiles, there being no circumstance so bland
a little extra salsa
won’t kick it up. That August afternoon in Tinsel Town
we touched on how Europe’s
right-wing nationalism is so in tune
with our own. The one note produced by the jaw harps
was more than enough for the Jews of Poland,
most of them conveyed from Silesia
to Auschwitz-Birkenau only after ponying up
for their own tickets.
Though we’d hoped to meet at the Blue Plate Oysterette
you’d been confined to barracks
on account of the side effects, I surmised, of steroids.
Not periwinkles, Nicodemus. Periwigs!
Though they went for $5 a pop
I used to favor a half-dozen Belons from the Damariscotta
over a dozen Wellfleets. Hard not to think of Pip,
the cabin boy of the Pequod,
forced to eat all that traif.
Hard not to think of him learning to flense
blubber from a whale like a turf-cutter cutting turf
on his smallholding. There was a little flourish on the violins
when you so graciously offered myself and Professor Bob
some Cheddar or aged Gouda
and I happened to ask if you were a fan of Époisses—
the “King of Cheeses,”
according to Brillat-Savarin. I must have been in manic
mode when I’d have Murray’s FedEx you a round
only hours after getting back to New York. A Cistercian monk
has been known to obsessively rinse the rind
in the pomace brandy that gives it such extra pizazz.
Why the electorate chooses
the likes of Ronald Bonzo and George W. Bozo
as Commander-in-Chief has already defied exegesis.
Hard not to think of Starbuck opening the waterproof match keg
and contriving to light a lamp of hope
while Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg
despair of the vengeful Ahab.
When Nicodemus busies
himself treating the body of Jesus
“with a mixture of myrrh and aloes,
about an hundred pound weight,”
this “aloes” is our self-same aloeswood, beaten to a pulp
and thereafter prized
as an embalming agent from Beirut through Bologna to Bilbao.
It seems particularly appropriate that a priest
should also distill brandy from the lees
of wine. Not one iota
of aloeswood shall derive from the Aquilara tree
till it’s threatened by a mold.
Only when a gold-orange
bloom of bacteria is allowed to seep
through a rind-washed cheese is its raunchy
essence revealed. Only when a sponge on a stalk of hyssop’s
proffered him does Christ acknowledge the glitter
of the doubloon nailed to the mast’s not only an amulet
against the whale but an emblem of Burgundian caseiculture.
“Trouble is,” you e-mailed
in October of your new favorite, Époisses,
“it’s the only thing I want to eat.”
Only when it’s threatened does the Aquilara push
back with the fragrant gum that translates to agar or oud.
Egoless, aquiline, égalitaire,
you yourself had tried no less to emulate
the teachings of the abbot of Mount Baldy
than his famous locum,
Bernard of Clairvaux. I suspect Bernard had a hand
in the development of the Meursault
Jefferson would come to love. Hard to reconcile the whale hunt
with the thirteen attributes of Divine Mercy
now that Ahab pilots the pilot
away from our ninth and final gam
and, having tempered his barb in the blood
of Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo, offers his final l’chaim
while urging us to stand firm. A chasuble
is a version of a “little house.” A kind of poncho.
It was no time after Jezebel
had married Ahab that she took it upon herself to banish
the prophets of Israel and trade them for the polity
of Baal. In the matter of leukemia,
of course, it comes down to the bone marrow
producing freak blood cells. Let’s not forget how the brazen
serpent becomes a false idol
to which the Israelites cry Hallelujah
and make their own offerings of incense. One jot or one tittle
shall in no way pass from the law
till Abraham sacrifices Ishmael on Mount Moriah.
The incense-smoke sends up its orison
over Mounts Moriah and Meru.
That August afternoon our tour d’horizon
included not only the Tower of Wrong
being built by Trump
from the promises on which he’ll shortly renege
but the life-size diorama
of a grove of trees. Those same trees producing myrrh
only when they’re wounded. Just as the resin
in a stick of Superior Aloeswood
is produced only as an immune response
to an all-out attack. It’s not only Bashar al-Assad
dropping barrel-bombs on his people that threatens the core
of our humanity. The rancid sweat
from a round of Époisses raises its own Kyrie
through the kitchen to mingle with the fragrant incense-soot.
Not harps, Nicodemus. Not harps. Harpoons!