'The natural world is not kind.' – ‘How viruses shape the world’, The Economist (22nd August 2020)
I live to smell the flowers. I’d measured out my day in scents and my life in garden fragrances: yellow primroses in March, white lilacs in May, philadelphus in June. All that beckons now is a sterile space. A piercing spear of mint has salvaged me, many times. Torn basil and cinnamon dust transfigure the point of food. If you asked the definition of joy, I’d say smell. Everything smells of nothing. My sister’s dog’s biscuity fur is fur. Eating is a mechanical round. Wine is as vinegar and I want to cry, but am far from the surface. I empty half a glass into a flowerbed as though to wet the earth’s bland head. I long to detect even alarm smells: off-milk, a blocked drain, smoke. The singular musk each human trails. Nature never did betray the heart that loved her, but I have been betrayed – by a particle that leapt from continents away to this isolated corner right when spring was erupting. I am entombed in a body. The world is sealed, not breathing. My neurons cannot find the essence of anything. This is a new wasteland, flat-lining without end, that few can see into. What is life without the rising rinsed earth?
(The italicised line is adapted from William Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’. Surprisingly, Wordsworth apparently had no sense of smell from birth.)
Animals in War Memorial
Horses, donkeys and mules, with their vocal cords cut out to keep them quiet; camels, oxen and dogs, elephants and pigeons – all have been shepherded into war’s ark. Simon the Cat caught rats to protect the rations of HMS Amethyst’s crew and was lacerated with shrapnel. GI Joe, Pigeon USA.43.SC.6390 flew his message twenty miles in twenty minutes to stop a hundred Allied soldiers from being bombed by their own. Gander, a Newfoundland, chased a grenade like a ball, picked it up in his mouth and rushed it back to its thrower, exploding himself to save his wounded Canadian masters. Even glow-worms in jars lit soldiers’ reading in the trenches after dark. From man to beetle, war is made of raw voicelessness.