For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet and pillow. I lift a blanket to my face. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet, like sandalwood left sitting in the heat or cardamom rubbed on a piece of lace. For weeks, I breathe his body. In the sheet I smell anise, the musk that we secrete with longing, leather and moss. I find a trace of bitter incense paired with something sweet. Am I imagining the wet scent of peat and cedar, oud, impossible to erase? For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet— crushed pepper—although perhaps discreet, difficult for someone else to place. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet. With each deployment I become an aesthete of smoke and oak. Patchouli fills the space for weeks. I breathe his body in the sheet until he starts to fade, made incomplete, a bottle almost empty in its case. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet. And then he’s gone. Not even the conceit of him remains, not the resinous base. For weeks, I breathed his body in the sheet. He was bitter incense paired with something sweet.
“I’m coediting an anthology of poems, The Book of Scented Things, that engages with perfumes. Each of the 100 contributors received an individually selected vial of scent and wrote a poem in response. I decided to give myself the same prompt. One of my husband’s fragrances allowed me to write about the felt loneliness of a military deployment. The poem is an exploded villanelle that continues, perhaps a little longer than it should; in my experience as a military spouse, deployments too often feel as if they are a series of maddening refrains.”