Aleppo Galls or The Theater Way: by Bonnie McClellan


Some mornings when I go walking,
on my promenade sauvage,
you are my mind’s companion.
Not today, à cause de la pluie;
It was Monday that we walked together.
I said to you,
nothing of any real importance.

I pointed out a pleasing branch,
winter-bare, cracking the sky’s solid blue
into angular panes.
All the while, the curious eye of a downy woodpecker
peered at us across the top of a telephone pole.

(“Amazing that telephone poles still are,” I say.
you nod agreeably, watching the bird away.)

Houseman goes jogging by;
In my mind’s eye
he turns his head across his shoulder and
back to us in lovely iambs shouts:
“Loveliest of trees the cherry now…”

(steam rising from his mouth into the frigid air.)
I look down;

Lady Murasaki is at my elbow,
kimonos layered seventeen deep.
At her neck and sleeve
a pulsing chromatic order
from bamboo’s winter gold to white,
honors the season with
the echo of its colours.
She raises not her eyes to me.
I glimpse the iron black
of her eleventh century teeth
as she murmurs,
“Golden bamboo sighs
beneath winter’s white weight.”
Recalling to me Friday’s now absent snow.

(Matter never lost, transformed to water.)

She takes her cordial, silent leave
of me, still standing on the bridge.

I press deep-coated ribcage
against the galvanized steel
that keeps us seekers
on the middle path.
Now it holds me from falling to the street below,
leaning out to show you the galls
among my favorite live-oak’s leaves.

(you have turned from whatever personal curiosity held you back while Murasaki and I had our tête-à-tête.)

I tell you: in a housewife’s notebook
that comes to pieces in my hands, I have found
(along with a laudanum label from 1832,
instructions for concocting
A Paste for Cleaning Gloves,
Court Plaster, and
Essence for the Handkerchief,)
her recipe for SOLID INK.
It requires 42 parts Aleppo Galls to
3 parts Dutch Madder.

“Would this work,” I ask
“if we soaked live-oak galls in vinegar
and warm water?”

What could be drawn with such an ink,
bitter recriminations?
rancorous, impudent washes?
We laugh together at this unlikely experiment,
After all, the galls rest too far off the path to reach.

I leave you to work that out, bridge-bound.
Maybe you will have an answer for us tomorrow.

“A Demain.”
I smile to you and,
hands pocketed in the cold,
amble towards home.

To read more work by Bonnie McClellan, click HERE.

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.


  1. A lovely interlude….I was distracted by my own memory of the purplish black ink we calligraphers sometimes made with oak galls….the ink eats right into the parchment, it is so highly acidic, and that’s what made it almost impossible to remove by the scribes of palimpsests. I enjoyed your speculations about what could be written with such ink—bitter recriminations etc….usually it was psalters and other holy books!

    1. Thank you Cynthia. I found the notebook after reading Victoria Finlay’s “Color: A Natural History of the Palette” a charming history/travelogue which also mentioned the uses of Oak Galls. I’ve never tried it but I’ve always been curious! It was a pleasure to hear about your experience as a calligrapher.

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