Olfactory Ballad

It’s Chicago, November—Wind blows
through your lunchbox like a future lover.
For now, you’re ten, and such things
wait in the wings, in the vivid theater
of your imaginings. Factory smoke
hollering where the Marlboro Man
is on a horse in bell-bottoms
and a bulging crotch on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Truckers honk diesel. You’re a little girl
going to the Cubs game—Hot dogs dripping
with mustard. Each scent archived
as the crowd waves into
a human peace sign.
Sometimes the darkness lifts
as an odorless perfume, derivative
as the daily ache that smells rancid
as road kill. The smell of diesel
in my family tree, DNA held in cells.
I pricked it to see blood
show up like an out-of-town relative
looking for a quilted bed in my skin.
The snow is getting dirtier on the curbs.
Salt and Sulphur, this is how God
lights the matchstick. I pop a doll
for the pain, but a wolf still sniffs
me out in every plinth and corner.
My favorite sound is silence.
My favorite smell is sex after hugging
legs tight around the hips of a man
that knows my flaws
and loves me any way. After my son’s birth,
for months, even washed, my nightgown
held the netted smell of a pause
just before life ticks in. My son
scowled his first breath, it hit like a package
thrown to the stoop. He was the cure hugging
the poison. In this life, I’ve learned to smell
by memory, all the ways we slight
each other without ever knowing it.
Flowers on the highway. Dying is lonely.