Ancient Trees and Underbrush


For a brief interval in my childhood my father smoked a pipe. One of my earliest memories is of visiting a small tobacco shop watching him go through the process of selecting the right blend of leaves and finding the proper resulting aromatic scent. The air was always dense with various fragrances—from a sharp cinnamon to a drowsy oak. A forest of impressions. Dad always chose a vanilla-apple blend, a scent somewhat similar to the sensation of burning leaves in October. The store was kept in warm shadows, from the dim lighting to the dark colored woods making up the counters and shelving—the proprietor always conscious of the specific conditions of the rooms to ensure longevity of the leaves.

This memory only explains further why I venture into coffee shops and tea aisles in markets— a flooding over of the olfactory senses successfully reminds one of the details of the past.

In fact, used book stores and university libraries produce the same results for me these days—a slight sensation of falling, dropping back into personal history—especially the older books, the leather and cloth bound books which have texturized bindings marked by use over time. I miss the row of used bookshops I visited in Saint Louis in the Nineties—each visit produced a treasure hunt for an unknown item, the unanswerable curiosity of the week.

Today I fall into these recollections due to the fact I finally found a copy of a text casually mentioned by Isabel Allende in her essay: “The Jungle Queen.” In midst of her exploration of the Brazilian Amazon and within herself, she casually states: “Finally I understood the meaning of the last line of a famous Latin American novel: ‘He was swallowed up by the jungle.’” Although she never mentions the title of the work, nor the author, with the help of a few students I at last located an English translation. Ironically, none of the anthologies which list the essay never follow through with research to explain Allende's reference. This in itself is one of the problems I have with many college textbooks these days. However, I finally discovered that the book Allende refers to is titled La vorágine (The Vortex), written by José Eustasio Rivera and set in the Colombian jungles during the decade of the Twenties.

Finding an English translation of the book seemed impossible. Thankfully, after a month or two, my local library found a copy and now I am lost in the middle of the plains of Colombia following the treks of the protagonist Arturo Cova as he searches for some sense of inner peace. He does frustrate me however. Cova is displayed as a very emotional, reactionary man— very self-centered, egotistical in a vain-youthful manner. But a good protagonist is supposed to show a different perspective on life. Through Cova's complexities the reader develops a stronger understanding of a portion of the South American experience.

The translation of José Eustasio Rivera phrasings does manage to convey a strong sense of the poetic nature of book. Furthermore I can see why Allende references it within her own essay. A commonality of intention exists in the creative presentation of the topographical landscape within South America.

Which of course is what I venture into myself every now and then, losing the self in a landscape of an imagined region, in a wilderness of one’s own creation. I have been lax with creating new poems for the project series Grackle, Fox, and She-Bear, but the full forest of poems sits in my head ready to be slowly presented— I often picture Brendan as he works his way through the ancient trees and underbrush, encountering a variety of creatures and obstacles within the resulting verses. With a better layout of my time, I should be able to approach the full labyrinth of ideas again, fairly soon.

Yet another resolution: break down the sensations for all projects under development: one-by-one, poem-by-poem, progress towards the full idea.


  1. Word by word David-Glen, and then the images arise. For me the sense of smell is one of the most evocative of memories. My grandfather smoked pipes and the smell of his amphora tobacco also takes me back in time.

    As for jungles, our minds are like the thickest of them, and we can easily get lost , which to me is one of the reasons why writing about the internal experience is like getting my head up out of the tangle and into the blue sky of clarity, if only momentarily.

    Thanks for a terrific and evocative post.

  2. Elisabeth: appreciate your comments. Ironically last night the jungle was very dense and hard to navigate—think I spent 45 minutes with a blank page—rare when that happens. Usually I manage at least a short paragraph or two... but nonetheless. Working out some phrases today.

    Look forward reading your updates.

  3. I did enjoy the post D-G. Pipe smoke - so rich you want to eat it. And it reminds me of men (the pipe was always masculine)I have loved very much.
    I have a copy of The Vortex downstairs. Unread (by me). A relic from my partners English degree (which had papers in South American and Russian literature - mmmm spot the join?). I am curious now - and want to go get it. Just finished Bulgakovs The Master and Margarita (another relic from Rs degree).
    But I am keen to read more of your poetry.

  4. Really? Hmm. I did not think of exploring the academic realm... I was only checking commercial sites like Amazon...

    —and what a combination! All my knowledge of South American lit is self-taught unfortunately.

    Hopefully in a matter of a day or two I'll be posting more poetry.


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