Do You See?

“The Cinnamon Peeler”: Ondaatje; Hey, it’s May; Etc.

Michael Ondaatje came up couple of times in recent conversations with folks here. Not sure what the trigger was. But once it was about this poem of his that I paste below, and the second time, about the fact that I met him last summer at NYS Summer Writers Workshop, shook his hand, and yet did not take his photograph. Bummer, I agree.

“THE CINNAMON PEELER” is a beautiful poem, sensuous-sensual in every way. Worth reading over and over again, from a writer whose prose I admire. And it’s just not the subtle erotica that appeals to me, rather, the quiet exactitude of it all. As if he is speaking in a murmur.  It’s really not a declaration, this poem. More of a reflection, a speculated happiness, one that comes from things said-unsaid. The way I often speak to myself!

Read it below:

THE CINNAMON PEELER  by Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
— your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grasscutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.
and knew
what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife. Smell me.

Here’s a lovely video that’s been made on this poem. And Ondaatje himself is reading the poem! Click and view:

I had posted the poem elsewhere and a cheeky wannabe poet had quipped thus, when I mentioned about having held Ondaatje’s hand: “So, did the fragrance linger on, Nabina?” I couldn’t help but say, “Well, I searched my arms for the missing perfume…” I mean, come one.


May is here. I completed exactly one month of my Charles Wallace fellowship time at University of Stirling. Arrived on April 1 and did my reading on May 1. Will be in London this weekend.


Did I put “Etc.” in the heading? Well, I guess small random thoughts wanted to spill out, but can’t remember them now. Wait, one of them is this — how do the bunnies manage to stay on the lawn behind my flat all day and all night long? They’re like little brown-grey installations! Always there and multiplying. That reminds me, I need to post some “flora-fauna” pics of Stirling. Soon.


6 comments on ““The Cinnamon Peeler”: Ondaatje; Hey, it’s May; Etc.

  1. Mihir Vatsa
    May 4, 2012

    Nice poem there by Ondaatje. He was there in this year’s JLF. Nice session. Since you mentioned your encounter with Ondaatje, when we were in JLF, my friend serious needed a lighter to light her cigarette. She turned around and asked a man standing beside her for his lighter. He lit the cigarette for her and the next thing she saw was that the man was there on the stage- Ben Okri. 🙂

  2. Mihir Vatsa
    May 4, 2012

    Also, it seems I am the only reader of your blog. It’s creepy and makes me look like a pseudo-stalker. 😐

  3. Do You See
    May 4, 2012

    No, no, MV, you are not a pseudo-stalker! Definitely not a real one 😉 The truth is, a lot of people read my blog, I mean if not a lot, quite a few, but not everyone like to leave a comment or a “like”. I get plenty of feedback from folks on fb and emails about what they’ve read from my blog. So no worries, kid. Personally, I like your comments. It makes me think I’m visible at least, you know what I mean?

    That story about your friend and Ben Okri is hilarious! When I’d met Ondaatje, I did ask him if he’ll visit India soon. He mentioned JLF, but what a pity I wasn’t able to go to Jaipur because I was leaving for my Sangam House residency in Bangalore. I want to be at JLF some time…. Btw, Ondaatje had recommended Shehan Karunatilaka’s CHINAMAN to me. That book’s grabbing eyeballs.

    Stay on the blog!

    • Mihir Vatsa
      May 4, 2012

      Worry not. I am true blogger. Ek baar koi blog pakad liya toh fir jaane nahi deta (what a dialogue!). Haha.

      Chinaman? I have heard about it. Will Flipkart it after the exams. 😀

  4. Do You See
    May 4, 2012

    Actually, JLF began right after I had finished participating in the Hyderabad Literary Festival. I remember Hoshang Merchant and the others were heading there the next day. I was coming back to Sangam House because I’d taken off in the middle to be at HLF, being a featured poet. Good lord, I’ve had travels almost every month. Never felt like I completely unpacked after I got back from the US last August! Well, c’est la vie.

  5. Do You See
    May 4, 2012

    Cool! And all the best for your exams, boy.

    I somehow was under the impression you had already graduated… But break a leg.

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