This irony was not lost on me when today I wistfully read Ode to the Smell of Wood by Pablo Neruda. I live in a tropical paradise, the envy of many who must chop wood and shovel snow, and long for blue sky and green grass, and a colorful landscape each winter. Yet my neighbors and I can bask in the sunshine alongside the warm waters of the Gulf, have our air conditioners on for most months of the year, and we lament there are so few days we can comfortably wear a turtleneck sweater.
Late, with the stars
open in the cold
I open the door.
The sea galloped
in the night.
Like a hand from the dark house
came the intense aroma of firewood in the pile.
The aroma was visible as if the tree were alive
As if it still breathed
Visible like a garment.
Visible like a broken branch.
I walked into the house surrounded
by that balsam-flavored darkness.
Outside the points sparkled in the sky
like magnetic stones
and the smell of the wood
touched my heart like some fingers,
like certain memories.
It wasn't the sharp smell of the pines, no it wasn't
The break in the skin of the eucalyptus, neither was it
the green perfumes
of the grapevine stalk, but
something more secret, because that fragrance
and there, of all I have seen in the world
in my own house at night, next to the winter sea
was waiting for me the smell
of the deepest rose.
the heart cut from the earth,
something that invaded me like a wave
from time and it lost itself in me
when I opened the door
in the night.
I can imagine myself somewhere late at night opening the door to the cold, hearing the galloping sea, and smelling the intense aroma of firewood as if the tree were alive. I remember a balsam-flavored darkness I once breathed when in Yosemite Valley, but never did I think to call it such. And how brilliant for the poet to tell us the wood touched his heart like certain memories, but not this, nor that, neither the other, but something more secret. Because that fragrance only one, only one time existed. (Notice how he repeats on separate lines "only one.") Then, of all he has seen in the world, right in his own house, he found the smell of the deepest rose, the heart cut from the earth, something that invaded like a wave breaking loose from time.
All of this -- when he opened the door, in his own house, in the night.
Opening Our Own Door
Ode to the Smell of Wood