January 26, 2008

Vase final

"...It hits you like a thousand feathers."

by B. Foote

The first smell is your grandfather’s garden. It is heavy and green. The corn smells like wet paper and the shed like grease and pesticide. You spend whole summers camped in the corn rows, making trips to the shed periodically for old bolts, wire, and garden spades to make secret landmines for epic wars with enemies hiding under the shadows of the corn stalks.

Later there are the smells of carpet and Lysol. Your mother’s house is always clean on Sundays and everything smells bitter from telling friends you can’t come out today, there is work to be done. But through the bitter is your mother’s perfume. It is radiant and forgiving. Woman. It smells like department stores and her bedroom. It is scraped elbows and broken toes and good grades and dinners with just the two of you on the couch watching Westerns.

More years and now you have new smells. Adina’s hair in the autumn. The smell of your father’s truck as it rolls into the driveway and cools off from the long trip home. It smells of fuel. Carbon. It smells like a father. And father smells like the military. Kwik boot polish and military cotton. Airplane fuel, and missiles, other scents that can not be located because you have never smelled the work of men who load bombs, and you were not there when these men guided planes down from the sky, soaking themselves in jet fumes that flood the flight line.

And one day you have a precious smell. The smell of another boy’s mouth, and neck, and navel. And these smells are also heavy and green. And you are in another kind of cornfield, with cool shade and earth; his standing over you, skin wet with adolescent ache and hunger.

So now you know where are. Another year or so has passed and all the smells you need have been taken in through the avenues of your nose and mouth and stored inside your chest and head for catalog and keeping. You will only have variations of these smells that you have collected.

Until it hits you like a thousand feathers. You are in some small store where you shouldn’t be, looking at things you shouldn’t look at. It is a new smell that you have not known. You look around the shop for where it is, and you want to take it and run away with it so that you won’t forever associate the smell with plastic door curtains and posters of pot leaves. It smells like exotic rich gold and emerald. You are young and will never know a smell like this again.

You buy three boxes of it. Inside the blue and white package is wax paper stamped in Hindi.

You should have known that was what India smelled like. It smells like youth and tomorrow and different. Not begging children and bogus yogis charging American Express for bankrupt dharma bullshit. It is the India of strange elephant headed, multi-limbed, pink, crimson and baby, baby blue gods pumping peace and better memories into the air. You are concerned about the little yellow stick that barely holds the wet of the damp grainy resin up. The very smell of it seems to bend the poor thing into an obscene curve.

You will spend an entire year burning this smell in your room and car, and it will permeate everything you own. And you will have peace.

It is ten years now and you are in a metropolis with too much to smell. You smell the panic of people around you, you smell the postman delivering upset letters from the State of New York. You smell another pitiful cup of noodles and greasy bread. You smell more boys and for a while you smell a lot of powders. You decide it is better not to smell at all. Now you breathe cigarette smoke out of your nose, rejecting scent, pushing it out away from you to keep other smells at bay. You only want to smell yourself.

Until one day you are walking down across 21st Street and you smell India again. Briefly you are in pink and orange rags with garish head markings and corn stalks, car parts, sex, summer, fighter jets, fathers, grandmother, and hot strips of asphalt in your myriad hands and you turn to tell a friend,

“Heaven smells like Nag Champa.”


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