®

Today's poem is by Alfred Corn

Olfactory

A wash and wallop nothing had prepared
us for, pushing through automatic doors
(which then closed tight) of the hot subway car.

Ye gods, some passenger hadn't bathed for, what,
a month, a year? Which one? That one, judging
from his once-white face and homeless hair.

Yes, me, he let us know, benign, all smiles,
regal, not the least embarrassed people
fled to the car's far end and cleaved him alone.

A matron frowning in pain, handkerchief
clenched to her face. A blue-jeaned teenager
and girlfriend snickering gross's at the joke.

Keep breathing, it isn't lethal. Next stop
brought in fresh shock troops of battered shoppers,
some pirouetting to skip out, and others

frightened, but staying, intimate with millions
of molecules diffused into the air,
his body's vehement incivility.

The power of smell. Here's poverty and death
and putrefaction you'll break stones, move mountains
to get away from, inferno as a stench.

But think how pure elation comes by the same
sense—as it did once on a South Seas island,
a strip of black sand, plumeria in bloom . . .

Love, if the gods forgot, might have invented
those flowers' lush, hypnotic say, spice grains
of fragrance infiltrating the seaspray

sent aloft as waves stumbled on relics
of geologic insurrection. Eerie
how, after abrupt cones of lava rose

from oceanic oozes and froze to a halt,
adamant wind and waves abraded, pounded,
plant-kingdom passengers sprang up on board,

a crater gentled into sand, grease-black,
shivering with stars of silica—the beach
at noon so hot it takes your breath away.



Copyright © 2002 Alfred Corn All rights reserved
from Contradictions
Copper Canyon Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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