Thursday, March 09, 2006

Heart Sutra

I used to hate the Heart Sutra. All that creepy nothingness. Who could give up all the delights of the senses, or want to?

But my senses have taken leave of me--two of them anyway. Some vicious respiratory cootie that some student dragged in actually injected its pernicious DNA into my delicate olfactory nerves, sucking the life out of them, until they're just....gone. It's been this way since last October. From that time until maybe two weeks ago, I could not smell much of anything. Not gasoline, not kitty litter, not basil or spearmint or halitosis or baking cookies. I could smell coffee, except it wasn't a nice smell anymore, but biting and bitter. Could taste a little bit. I got to like the new, bitter taste of coffee, because it was at least something. I could taste good red wine, and chocolate, a little bit. Scrambled eggs tasted ok, fried eggs taste vile. Who knew eggs were bitter? Often, the inside of my mouth tasted like burnt metal meat. Then every food would taste like burnt metal meat too. I had nurtured a crop of heirloom tomatoes all through the hot and tricky summer: vermilion/green tigerella and some purple-black kind I don't remember the name of. They were beautiful and I had basketsful and I tasted not a one. The pesto I had made a few weeks before from my fresh basil and had intended to eat with the tomatoes is still in my freezer--waiting....

I alternate between mild despair and a kind of fascination with the condition. The olfactory nerves, of which there are hundreds, are a kind of sensory pallette. I have some very few nerves left, so I can sometimes faintly smell random things: coffee, soap, gasoline occasionally. And what I taste now when I taste is flavor reduced to essence: salt, bitter, sour or sweet (though some neurologists argue that there's a fifth flavor, exemplified by MSG).

An entire sensory world no longer exists. I remember, vaguely, with the same intellectual detachment with which I remember the names and functions of various Sumerian deities, how full of scent the world once was: whiff of armpit, asparagus pee, spearmint, other people's nerves, the pheromone tide of arousal as I kiss my lover, and our mingled afterscent of leavening and ocean. All gone. It's rather relaxing, really. Less distracting somehow.

I snort steroids; they seem to help. Slowly, very slowly, some of the nerves seem to be regenerating. It's odd, the things that come back online. Apparently, the kitty litter receptor nerve is regaining its composure. Yesterday, in the supermarket, I smelled the sweet pungency of fresh cilantro for the first time in half a year. And oh, garbage!! And citrus dish soap! And junior mints! And who knew that red wine had such depth of flavor? It's as if I'm coming back from some form of sensory amnesia.

Still no bread, sweat, rubber, blood, rose, cinnamon, pepper, fear or love or queasiness. I'm still waiting for all of that.