In A Kitchen Where Mushrooms Were Washed

I have said before that poems for me often require a certain amount of effort. Because I spend so much time in prose, perhaps, the linguistic twists and turns that poetry employs to evoke a difference sense, and even sensibility, about the world require me to do more lifting when it comes to understanding them. And this is something I’ve come to enjoy. The very necessity to slow down in a life where I always feel not simply on the go but rushing along the way is an intrusive delight and invitation.

This short poem is one that required me to take more responsibility for its interpretation. I noticed it first simply because it’s about mushrooms, and the town we now call home – Kennett Square, PA – calls itself the mushroom capital of the world. And so we have mushroom stores, and a great restaurant called Portobello’s (with lots of great mushroom dishes), and the annual Mushroom Festival.

But what I liked about Jane Hirshfield‘s poem especially was that sense that it’s about mushrooms and the scent they leave…and at the same time perhaps not about mushrooms at all. Rather, for me it evoked the wonder of those things that leave behind their indelible trace – a person, a place, a smell, a dream – after their departure that may exceed even the impact of their initial and immediate presence. In addition, I love the idea that mushrooms – unlike lichen, coconuts, or olives – have no other reasonable purpose but to give delight. More of life is like that, I suspect, than we imagine. And for those things we should give thanks.

In A Kitchen Where Mushrooms Were Washed

In a kitchen where mushrooms were washed,
the mushroom scent lingers.

As the sea must keep for a long time the scent of the whale.

As a person who’s once loved completely,
a country once conquered,
does not release that stunned knowledge.

They must want to be found, those strange-shaped, rising morels,
clownish puffballs.

Lichens have served as a lamp-wick.
Clean-burning coconuts, olives.
Dried salmon, sheep fat, a carcass of petrel set blazing:
light that is fume and abradement.

Unburnable mushrooms are other.
They darken the air they come into.

Theirs the scent of having been traveled, been taken.

Jane Hirshfield, from The Beauty: Poems.