I was in Kenya over January, 1999, studying comparative philosophy. Eventually, I hope to be putting quite a bit from that trip on my site, including bits of philosophical works, but oddly enough, though perhaps not innapropriately, the first bit of written work that came from the trip was a poem, and this is it. I know I have said I would put no poetry up here, but damnit, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. So here it is: a poem about a very small flower.
The lantana– and I have no idea where the word comes from– is a small compound flower
Made up of little clusters of tiny flutes: pink and yellow and orange like the sunset or the dawn.
The lantana grows wild along the roadside
And is tamed into hedges
And grows outside the doors of small huts in small villages.
It's a pretty little flower, but unprepossessing.
Except for its scent.
It smells like citrus and mango, and fresh air and spice,
Like sunshine and new sheets,
A little akin to a lilac
But the powdery, domestic lilac that we know is only a shadow of the lantana.
When the flower dries, the smell becomes even more intense, like orange rind,
And then it belongs with the memories of hot bright days.
Like all other dried herbs,
The smell of the little brown-purple crisp pile
Is an invocation to the place in which it was harvested;
As if, even desiccated and separated by great distance,
The plant still has some claim to its native soil.
The flower has also been used, I am told, to express that which cannot be said in words.
There is a story of a grandfather who spent a night
Gathering the flowers from the bush beside the door to his hut
And strewing them on the ground
Covering it with the tiny warm-hued blossoms
So that when his granddaughter walked out of the hut in the bright morning of her birthday
She walked on a carpet of the flowers instead of the earth.
I keep some, dried, in a small container.
Sometimes I take it out and smell it, trying to trace that smell back to memories of the places, far away, where it was gathered.
Sometimes I use it to remember the girl who walked on a carpet of scent for her birthday.
Sometimes I use it to remember the sunrise.
And sometimes I open it just to smell lantana again.
I hope to have more up soon, both pictures and text, but life is busy, so don't count on soon!
Time to go home?
These pages, text, and images all copyright Katherine Sherman, 1999
Created: March 14, 1999