Representations of Home Creative Journal

ROAM - Summer/Autumn 2023 - ROAM 3

The scent of the ocean

Gabriel Franklin

The scent of the ocean


Someday, somewhere, someone must write about what ‘going home’ really means. Unfortunately, I’m not up to the task: since I've been here, I don't know if what's behind me is a home.

If home simply means refuge, then this is one. I’ve come running away from the world, just like Huysmans' Des Esseintes: I’ve found a hole on the ground to hide from myself, or, at least, from the me that I am when I'm out there. I’ve only brought my books and some clothes, not the records, since those I keep on Spotify. And, of course, a suitcase full of empty memories, the same ones I wish to forget.

If home is necessarily analogous to hearth, then this definitely isn't one. Home presupposes a rounded coziness, and here I’ve turned everything into corners and coldness, even at the tropics’ scorching curve. Home is composed of more than one, even if that one is alone, and I’m more than alone: I’m empty. Home is made of presence, and as much as I try, I can only rhyme with it: I’m made of absence.

I'm never where I am, I'm always beyond, lost in words that aren't mine, like those I'm reading right now, in a slow pace marked by the coming and going of the rocking chair on the porch:

“Wysiadła na Raspail. Zostałem z ogromem rzeczy istniejących." 1.

I take my eyes off the book to better savor the wrinkled sadness of the words and I come face to face with another pair of wide eyes and hidden sadness. Then I hear a small voice, half hidden by its shyness and the low wall:

“What the hell is this, mister? Is it the Devil's tongue?"


Something rips out of me like a wild scream, turning into uncontrollable laughter. Soon I'm out of breath, my eyes watering; perhaps the tears finally will take advantage of the opportunity to be free, since there’s no more room for them in my silent cries. Gradually, I catch my breath. Unaccustomed to the effort of smiling, my face hurts: muscle memory won't let us be, just as it won't forgive us either.

The eyes on the wall, encouraged, become a boy’s face. His mouth appears: wide, with teeth yet to taste the world.

“Seriously, mister, what are you speaking over there?”

“It's Polish, kid. A poem by a guy named Miłosz.”

"By whom??"

“Say it after me: Mee-wash.”

The boy gets it right in the very first try. He is silent for a while, but finally he gets on the top of the wall and places a cardboard box beside him.

“Mister, can you speak some more Polish, you know, so I can hear it?”

I reopen the book and read what remains of the poem:

Gąbka, która cierpi, bo nie może napełnić się wodą, rzeka, która cierpi, bo odbicia obłoków i drzew nie są obłokami i drzewami. 2.

“What is this Meewash saying there, mister?”

“He's sad, kid. Because he met a girl on a train and she got off before he could find out anything about her.”

“Was that all? What a fool! A whole poem just because of this?”

“You're still too young to understand these things, kid. Sometimes an encounter like that is all we needed and didn't even know. And when it turns into nothing, we are left like the poet: sad because the world is dull, always having to go back to what it never was.”


“Mister, are you a poet too? It looks like it, since you're just as sad! Do you know what you need? A dog! That’s it! You, mister, need a dog to keep you company in that big house over there! It's settled: I'm going to get you a dog, mister. A black dog. Then you can call him Meewash!”

My only reply is to laugh at this force of nature shaped like a boy. As he speaks, he climbs down from the wall and approaches me, always with the box in his hands.

“And that box, kid. What’s in it?”

“It’s just that I’m taking the ocean to my grandpa!”

“The ocean?”

“Yes, mister. The ocean. That big bunch of water over there, you know? It's just that my grandpa was a fisherman and now he can't get out of bed. So, every day I take the ocean to him.”

“And how is a big bunch of water going to fit inside a little box like that?”

“It doesn't have to be the whole ocean. Just its smell.”

“Its smell?”

“Yeah, the smell of the sea. Do you want to see it, mister?”

He hands me the box, gently.

I lift just a small crack in the cardboard lid, and then I'm overrunned by the scent of wet sand, just in the right amount to build a cloud castle; by the scent of burning eyes and hangover skin; by the scent of soda in an aluminum cup and of Tim Maia’s singing; by the scent of a Sunday’s end and of a Monday’s tomorrow. What overruns me is not just a smell: it's all smells, the essence of smells. What invades me is Memory, it is Time itself.

Without a word I close the box and hand it back to the boy. Without knowing the reason for the tears that finally fall, finally free on a face tired of holding them back, but guessing that something has happened, he backs up towards the wall.


“I'll be going now, Mister. But I’ll come back with Meewash and you can read more of the Devil's tongue, I mean, of Polish to me!”

Just as lightly as he got down, the boy climbs the low wall and disappears, leaving behind a smile with all his teeth, the size of the immensity of things, and the certainty that, someday, somewhere, someone must write that, in order to go home, one must first smell the scent of the ocean.


Gabriel Franklin


1. "She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things." Czeslaw Milosz from “The Collected Poems 1931-1987”, 1988, Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky.

2. "A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees." Czeslaw Milosz, op.cit.


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