Our sense of smell is the one sense most likely to transport us through time. A sniff of fried fish on a breeze and I can wind up in my grandmother's kitchen 60 years ago, getting ready to eat bluegill. Michael Walsh, a Minnesotan, builds this fine poem about his parents around the odor of cattle that they carry with them, even into this moment.
Same size, my parents stained and tore
alike in the barn, their brown hair
ripe as cow after twelve hours of gutters.
At supper they spoke in jokey moos.
Sure, showers could dampen that reek
down to a whiff under fingernails, behind ears,
but no wash could wring the animal from their clothes:
one pair, two pair, husband, wife, reversible.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org ), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem from "The Dirt Riddles" by Walsh (University of Arkansas Press, 2010). Reprinted with permission from Walsh and the publisher.