Gershon Hepner

Two Nostrils and a Mouth

With a smell we disinter
the past, as with a madeleine
Marcel, notorious pasticheur,
once did. Words never can explain

a smell as they describe the sights
and sounds we barely can recall,
for they evoke the days and nights
that vanish with a dying fall,

revived by evanescent scents
mucosal cells within our noses
can recognize. To bring past tense
alive as on a couch of roses,

the past becomes a dream that we
recapture without help of shrink,
in ways that sometimes poetry
can do, revealing what we think

unaided by our vision or
the words that, in our brains confined,
cannot unlock the hidden door
imprisoning within our mind

our memories, their distant coast
recalled by poetry, as Proust
about this distant coast would boast,
that madeleines brought home to roost,

as we can when remembered smells
enable us to be decoders
of temps perdu’s recovered spells,
delivered to us by the odors.

We breathe the past through both our nostrils.
preceded by the present’s presence,
and with the mouth breathe, wholly ghostal,
the future’s dazzling luminescence.

In a Tikvah lecture, on 11/30/21, UC Davis Professor David Roskies, interviewed by Ed Rothstein, recalled how, growing up in a Yiddish-speaking community in Montreal together with his sister Ruth Wisse and two other siblings, he had been taught that the Jew needs to use both his nostrils to be able to breathe in both the past and the future. He did not mention the role played by the mouth.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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