Two poems by Nicola Healey

 
 

    Anosmia

 

'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

 

Hyde Park

 

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.

 

Nicola Healey

About Nicola Healey

Nicola Healey’s poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Ireland Review, The London Magazine and The Spectator, among other places, and are forthcoming in the British Journal of Psychiatry and Scientific American. She won the Seren Christmas Poetry Competition 2018 and was a runner-up in the Ginkgo Prize for Ecopoetry 2020. She is the author of 'Dorothy Wordsworth and Hartley Coleridge: The Poetics of Relationship' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), a revision of her PhD, which she received from the University of St Andrews.