My first post! And what a post indeed.
My good friend, Patrick Thomas Parnell teaches a class at Ringling College of Art and Design. Patrick asked for a short story to give to his students as an assignment. They were challenged to read the story and provide an illustration.
I gave him a poem I wrote inspired by Max Brooks’ “World War Z,” about a blind Samurai who finds himself in the midst of a zombie uprising.
Below is the poem followed by the student artwork. Thank you, Patrick for including me in such a fantastic exercise. And thanks to all the students who did such wonderful work.
THE SOUND, THE TASTE, AND THE SMELL
By David Parkin
Lost to sound, lost to wind, lost to the hampering breath of mortality,
The weight of my frame lifts slowly as I disappear.
Zen, like sleep, is only realized once you wake from it.
That day, as the days were shrinking, I was pulled far and fast from endless peace,
Not by noise or havoc but an assault all the same.
A smell attacked with a swift and calculated kick.
I have not known the use of my eyes since they saw the world from my mother’s hip.
To me, light, dark, and color are as mysterious as the afterlife.
As a monk of Buddha, However, my sight is as useless as the afterlife.
I have known men driven mad by the sights they have seen,
Never have I imagined an assault on the nose so strong as to achieve the same,
Never, until that smell entered my sinuses, my brain, and my chi.
As a child, when the cloud took my eyes, my spirit alone refused to see.
After a season in a darkness I would not let myself escape, something changed,
My ears, my nose, and my tongue learned to read the wind like a book.
I discovered the world anew, giving my spirit feelings reborn from eclipse.
I learned to run through a forest by listening to the echoes of the trees.
That day, the wind told me that this smell meant death and only death.
The assault on my nose soon partnered with an equally foul assault on my ears.
It came from the warm side of my face, the east, where the white gets whiter.
One cannot breathe without smelling the lifegiving air they take in.
How cruel we cannot shut our mouth to foulness like one would their ears or eyes.
Their calls were the sickened, tainted, rotting sounds of men.
Their steps were the lame hobble of a doll’s feet dragged by a child across the floor .
The smell was tar. The sound was a snake moving up the hill.
I think of the last visitor to walk that path, the woman I love… in silence.
The assault defiled this holy place, watching, grumbling, but not breathing.
The sound, the taste, and the smell. So brutal, I, for the first time, felt truly blind.
Now, fear. Sweet, cold, and pure, it came with the movement behind me.
I had but two beats of my heart to react… I needed only one.
The katana. The only possession of a monk, the only prayer of a Samurai.
I’ve haunted my hillside alone since last I drew my sword from its wooden coffin.
Silent for ten years. Warm by my side, drinking the blood I left on its face.
The steel leaves its scabbard with the whistle of a songbird,
So perfect in itself with balance, impossibly flawless in my hand.
The steel moved through her torso like a crane’s wingtip through still water.
She fell in splattering pieces like wet stinking laundry.
Carved in twain, the chest and head, absent the arms at the elbow, land at my feet.
Though many who claim to see all when enlightenment is achieved,
The ancient ones themselves have no privy as to what my senses read next.
I have cut enough flesh to know when my blade has quenched the thirst of death.
With a heart carved in two, the thing moved still, pulling itself toward my geta.
Its fingers wrapped around my ankle and I knew again the fear of that blind child.
These temple walls heard a human voice for the first time in centuries as I cried out.
It was the cry of a stranger. It was a cry that was not alone for long.
I know the voices of the villagers like I know my own mother’s breast.
A choir singing a song of death that begged for the silencing ring of my steel.
Like my nose and my eyes, my ears now know the loneliness of terror.
My friends, my only family. The one I love as well. All are dead but not dead.
I take half a breath to mourn her, the voice that became my poem for life.
Like those who know dishonor, taking her head was the only way to save her.
Those with smitten arms or opened bellies kept coming.
Rage, fear, revenge, love, the only sins a monk can commit, I committed them all.
In an instant I became an unholy man, trading an unholy life for unholy death.
Between the waves of my loved ones, I stay high, quiet, and calm.
I tie a bag over my head to keep their filth from my mouth and eyes.
Only a blind man knows every tree, every rock across his homeland.
I taste more coming on the wind. Always more… Always…
They settle on my tongue from the distance like an endless ghost.
This is only the beginning. This is only the end.
I lost track of the years as the warm sun hid from the damned,
Replaced by cold blood drowning what’s left of my honor.
My subjects never cease in their pilgrimage to worship the god of death at my feet.
My bones ache from the endless and lonely war they bring with them.
The last flick of my blade will be my own death, the only way to get back what I lost.
Until such a time, I will reign here alone. A blind man. A King in the land of the dead…
The Sound, the Taste, and the Smell – © Copyright: David Parkin – 2016
(Join my email list)