Durian

When someone at a foo-foo reception
Cuts open my first durian, Far East paradise
Fruit, I nearly refuse. I catch a whiff
Of brimstone, soiled socks, warehouse #2
At Olin Chemical. I smell a girl I didn’t meet
In Saigon, but a bar in Lynn, her accent
All Boston, Irish with a trace of German,
Exotic because she was just a stock clerk
With a foul mouth and no future, someone far
Beneath me, summer fun, friends preached
Hopeful and prophetic. I made less working security
For the makers of fertilizer. But each tour
Of the premises at 2 AM, each eerie stride
Past the fresh vats of powder that clung
To my shined jump boots was college cash, a step
On the way up. Maybe she was too
Though the prophets claim odor never lies,
That of the five senses only smell escaped
The garden uncorrupted, that it is the one sense
Enjoyed by the soul. Here I am with fruit
Thick skinned, spiny but sweet as sherbet,
Its stench so potent there are no flings,
No wild sowing ever that doesn’t endure
On that lower cruder level of the brain
The oldest sense calls home. Maybe brimstone
Is the fragrance of hell and of heaven too.
I spent nights with this girl darker and deeper
Than scrub woods around the plant’s “keep out” signs,
Brick buildings and fusty industrial ambitions.
Maybe I was infiltrated. Maybe I was compromised
In ways I couldn’t begin to imagine, shrugging
Off her calls after the breakup, the phones
Echoing in each cavernous room as I paced
My rounds. Maybe hell had shifts and clocks with keys
You turned that made marks in a roll of paper
So they’d know where and when. Maybe guilt,
Which the Sanhedrin claimed the messiah would sniff out
With the awe of God, made my sinking hat brim,
My seven bucks an hour, feel almost deserved.
Sometimes I’d cheat, set my own cheap alarm
To jolt me out of my chair from a dead doze
So I could somnambulate among the loading bays.
Once in a dream I saw something move
In the trees, surged out from my shack to find
This girl offering me my forgotten lunch pail
Over the fence. When I woke I was alone
Once more, famished, haunting the infernal corridors.
Even now as I bite into my durian I’m watching
Her walk away through the links. I’m unarmed
And wear no uniform, no chintzy badge,
Though I write this down almost as duty,
Knowing at last what I’m here to defend.

                                                             —David Moolten

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33 comments
  1. poetryaboutart said:

    A compelling journey through the lower and/or upper regions of senses, feeling, thinking, and living. Many poets have told of such descents and returns. The many visual and olfactory details here are vivid. I like the one-stanza poem: the stichic poem, preferred also by poet Thomas Lux.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Therese, thanks for taking the time to look at this, and for your kind remarks. I do like to write “block” shaped poems. I also like Thomas Lux.

  2. rallentanda said:

    Do I detect a telepathic transpacific connection here? Anyone who writes
    a poem about Indonesian fruit with religious reference is clearly imaginative.
    I loved your poem with its personal touches for obvious if not narcissistic reasons

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for the feedback. I too liked your poem for other than self-serving reasons. I think we tackled an overlapping topic in different ways.

  3. I’ve never encountered durian, but find the idea that something so unpleasant to the nose could still taste sweet an apt metaphor. A very strong piece. Like the dark humor of hell as timeclocks to be punched.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Barbara. The dualities were something I really was looking for here, since I have both positive and negative feelings about this particular memory, positive in what I learned from it, negative in some of the repercussions…

  4. Linda said:

    I like the way you use descriptions in your poem and I like the pungent odors
    you reference. Well written. Thanks for posting.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Linda, I appreciate your kind remarks. I’ve never focused on “smells” before in a poem…

  5. What a rollercoaster of a poem. Loved the idea of heaven tasting of Brimstone

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Rachel, the poem is based on some rollercoaster experiences, no actual brimstone as yet.

  6. Olfaction is so closely tied to the primitive brain. The receptors are some of the shortest neurons in the body and closely linked with motivation, memory, and indeed the soul, as your poem communicates. I enjoyed reading.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Ted,

      Thanks. It’s pretty amazing that we have such “animal” wiring just below the surface. I think we tend to deny it as it is a little unsettling.

  7. The memory of the girl (who you later felt you used) mixed in with the
    description of the durian (much like the girl) was a very imaginative and powerful simile. I also liked the description of heaven AND hell smelling of brimstone…

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks so much Cynthia,

      I tend to be ambivalent about things; not surprisingly, to me much of what’s good (or bad in the world) has conflicting qualities.

  8. Irene said:

    Interesting narrator..

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for checking out the poem Irene.

  9. I love how a simple smell triggers so much memory. I especially enjoyed the informative digressions you take, while always coming back to that central story of the girl. An exceptional piece.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks Francis,

      For your kind remarks. At first, the prompt, although intriguing, really stumped me. I tend to try to include several senses in my writing, but I think smells rarely figure that much. But when I thought about it, I realized that they are pretty strong triggers of memory.

  10. Therese said:

    I think I have made the connection between this durian fruit and the title of your blog, Edible Detritus. Were you sampling the durian as part of your fruitarian diet, eating only the edible detritus of the durian?

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Therese,

      I didn’t plan a connection. But I think there’s a lot my subconscious is doing when I write, so I don’t know. Freud would talk about oral fixations. For me fruit is a great metaphor for so much, and the idea of scavenging the good from the bad is such a big part of writing too–a lot of detritus, and not all of it edible. I also use fruit as a way of avoiding high calorie stuff.

  11. I’ve never smelled a durian, but you made it very real to me.

    I love the way you bring in Sanhedrin and the messiah to capitalize guilt. Very grounded, yet very inventive. And the messiah’s sniffing out guild like a durian. Strong!

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the compliments. I like to combine religious allusions with gritty material, since they tend to balance each other. Hopefully I didn’t go overboard.

  12. Jeeves said:

    Interesting roller coaster ride

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for reading my poem, Jeeves.

  13. David this poem is great. What an impressive structure to give you the ability of “Knowing at last what I’m here to defend.” Wish I had known you were in Philly, I was just there visiting my daughter a chemist at Merck making some of the goodies you use. Enjoyed you poem.
    DH

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Donald,

      Sorry I missed you. I actually started out as a chemist, that was my major, though I had a reputation even before college of “mixing things together to see what happens” as my teachers used to complain…Thanks for your kind comments.

  14. nathan said:

    Wonderful use of the durian as metaphor. I like this very much.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Nathan, thanks for reading it, and for the positive feedback.

  15. djvorreyer said:

    I like the way you used the smell to get you into the memory -the ghost image of the girl with the lunch pail is really nice, and I think your ending is lovely.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks for the generous comments.

      This week’s was a good but challenging prompt. I struggled with the whole sense of smell thing for a while. In retrospect, I do think there is a strong connection between one’s sense of smell and memory, I must admit.

  16. wayne said:

    what a nice read…..David…..you are such an accomplished writer…and you are easy to read…that makes it even easier..thanks for sharing….by the way…a close friend of ours has just arrived back in Goa, India and just touched base with her on the facebook thing….she is a wonderful Chef..so I will throw the durian at her….take care

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thanks so much Wayne, for reading my poem, and for your generous compliments. I hope you have a good experience with durian. It’s quite popular in Asia, though it’s one of those either you-hate-it-or-you-love-it kind of experiences.

  17. тыия said:

    Любопытно было почитать :) Попробуем-с тоже ответить в ближайших постах.

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