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About Almonds and Ambergris by Lorna Goodison

About Almonds and Ambergris

by Lorna Goodison

Atlanta Review, Spring/Summer 2019 issue


There is a perfume rising off the sea today.

A scent of almond top notes and base notes of ambergris.


I think about ambergris, a griege ball of scent starter

coiled in the stomach of sperm whales or rolling free,


a pomander perfuming the waters of oceans.

Did Jonah know that he was valuable as ambergris


sought after and needed to touch pulse points?

I meditate upon these matters this day as I lie


upon the outer reaches of Lyssons beach.

I think that I shall add the scent of berries now


to the perfume rising off the ocean. Water berries,

bright red such as those which cheered the eyes of Columbus


when he feared the sea would dip under and that he christopher

and his colombo in the Niña the Pinta and Santa Maria


would be drawn down to the weed clogged sea floor.

O chrisobal Colun set out for Cipangu and China


sweet winds swept his caravelles out to sea,

blessed weather, April month in Andalusia.


Now three ships full of frightened men

who have crossed that fine line of foam


into uncharted waters. Then Christobal sights

carved board horses and green branches


fresh branches bearing berries, life cast upon water.

There is a sweet smell coming off the sea today


of almonds and ambergris and red berries.

I think about Columbus and how he thought at first


these islands would be a source of gold,

of cotton and mastic, aloes, wood, and things invaluable


to him, poor thing. That sweet smell rising off the sea today.

May the perfumed tides wash my people now bright berries.




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