It’s true rendered beef’s more efficient,
But I want nothing of the cleaver’s streaked vapor.
&&Do you see?
In Grasse they splay the tuberose between
Suspend the clear planes on wooden racks until each petal is spent.
Then the impregnated fat, the pomade, must itself yield –
&&delivered of scent, attended by solvents.
No. I used beeswax from her brother’s hives
(He drains that orchard of chemicals by the year. It’s really
&&quite something, the vicious filial slap)
and her scratched Pyrex plates.
Funny that as girls we spoke of loss so flippantly.
We mourned the discontinued perfume,
&&pined over a missed call –
Then wondered at our elders’ flinching
&&from the grief-drenched words.
Yet the parfumerie’s collapse was no small passing.
&&That’s now clear.
Her copper-topped bottle and silk-ruched
&&powder box so kindly returned by the ward nurse –
Unexpected grace notes then, but
Now the djinni’s grown sullen.
I ordered a scent encyclopedia for its
&&catalogue of discontinued perfumes.
A strange volume denouncing the modern aldehydes – steeped
&&in almost girlish longing for the
Cast-aside pastes and oils – then
Dwelling in an oddly sensual manner
on the trade’s underbelly – on
Indole – a heady floral compound also lurking
&&in human waste – and on the
Brutal fixatives – severed, desiccated pouches of musk deer,
Perineal secretions of tortured civets,
&&castor sac beaver resin and
Sea-skimmings of whale sick.
But here: The lost scent’s blurry blueprint –
Spice, creamy petals, leather, rind, tobacco.
A wartime perfume hazily analyzed:
Top note, heart, base.
How it smelled,
&&from citrus-charged uncapping to powdery drydown.
Enough to be going on with, I decided.
The curiosities I’ve trapped in this cabinet!
Wrestled them into melted beeswax and
&&sealed them between Pyrex skins,
Each nested pair clenching an olfactory puzzle piece —
Three shelves positing three notes.
I’ve cut squares of smoky bomber jacket,
Scattered peppercorns, juniper berries, cardamom pods.
Soaked (o sacrilege!) ancient chapbooks in cognac;
Rejected the indolent florals for milky-breathed botanicals:
&&honeysuckle stamen and blackberry leaf.
I’ve sent for orange blossoms and coffee beans,
Ripped angelica’s musky roots from the back border –
I even embedded the perfume cap and
&&the last precious powder grains.
Some of it took more time, of course – time to
Strip trees of their lichen and dry the spongy heaps
(Oakmoss anchors the lighter chords, then speaks its own
&&strangely seasweet story); to
Grow heat-loving rockrose amid New England stone for
&&labdanum – ambergris’ dirt-birthed twin – and to
Harvest spicy carnations and clove pinks, to
Track and capture morels, earth clods and all.
Yes, don’t bother saying it: one could easily get lost.
A mind could drift from simple unguent to
&&waxen totems and hair clippings, could ponder
Squat ushabti messengers dispatched to
&&scent out their mistress in the underworld –
But no. Mad science goes only so far in a pie plate.
Instead, here’s the domestic alchemy
&&of bamboo scoops and miniature scales,
Tins of pomade – a philosopher’s dozen.
&&the melt and congeal.
Lapis philosophorum cloaked in three sacred chords.
Mulled top note, earthen base,
&&whispered petal heart.