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In My Country of
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The Kiss
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Petrillos in Watertown
The Smell of It

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The Smell of It

When you grow up you get smells.
My daughter smells like mango toothpaste.
When she's an older woman, she'll smell like a Columbian cigar,
the inside of a cut down redwood.
I smell like vitamins, then liver, then oleander.
When I was five I stank like borscht.
My best friend swears that when his father dies
he will smell like Nixon. I say, Nixon
in The White House or Nixon
in the grave?
The house sparrows land on his roof and smell like toxic waste plants in New Jersey.
They smell like a pizzeria owner named Enzo.
When Enzo was a kid, he smelled like figs and his sweetheart, Carmelita, smelled like olives.
They made a mean salad dressing
and all the mozzarella reeked like sunset.
When I was six
I had an odor that reminded the neighborhood of a garbage truck
that had broken down on the corner
which no city agency came to claim.
It stood there for weeks, in July, and broke the spirits of the block bully, Flipper.
We saw him weep for hours by the lamppost
after his mother died and never again
shook us down for quarters.
The first time he beat me up he smelled like a forest of pine.
When he was a baby they sprayed Lysol in his nursery and opened the blinds.
It was magic.
Magic is the thing that happens between the time your head crowns between mamma's legs and the snip of the umbilical.
Everything smells bonanza and you haven't get a clue.
You smell like birth. Birth doesn't smell like anything.
The nasal passage shuts down
so you can watch your child breathe, kick and flutter.
When you realize she's alive and that her lungs won't stop
she begins to smell. Last night she smelled like onions
though she likes tomatoes.
I think if you wanted to write a poem about politics
and you couldn't get anywhere
you should have a child and then,
for the rest of your life,
write about what she smells like—oranges, black beans sautéed in chili pepper, grass—
and then you'd be writing poems that weren't about politics
even though you were being political.
Tonight, I smell like chlorine
and my daughter went to The Science Museum.
She'll be home in twenty minutes.
When I bend down to say hello, her fingers will smell like dinosaur bones,
her breath
like outer space.