As I recall from this blog’s last post, the YouTube channel Spoken Verse had its video The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje disabled for violating YouTube Community Guidelines. Roger Ebert said, “because of one female breast more than a century old.” He wrote about the incident on his blog post: YouTube and The Cinnamon Peeler:
“Ondaatje is the Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient. His poem is one of the most erotic I have ever heard, flowing from love and memory, but that’s not why it was taken down. Tom O’Bedlam’s offense was apparently to include, in addition to the written text of the poem a brief shot of a woman with her left breast exposed.”
Ebert goes on to say that Tom wrote to him a nice letter explaining the situation.
“The poet Michael Ondaatje who wrote The Cinnamon Peeler was born in Sri Lanka. I was looking for an atmospheric illustration for the poem, which does have erotic undertones and is about native peoples and nudity, when I came upon this page about the Rodian people of Sri Lanka — The story of the Rodi: Sri Lanka’s Untouchables.
“The picture I used is the last link at the bottom of the page. I was struck by the girl’s beauty and I thought it would add to the mood of the poem.”
Ebert got in touch with YouTube’s corporate office and the video was reinstated on June 11, 2009, the day of his post. He also posted his interview with YouTube about how such things might happen.
And here is the reinstated The Cinnamon Peeler as read by Tom O’Bedlam …. and the poem itself below that.
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
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 grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume
what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.