Features, Poems

Susan Kelly-Dewitt: “His Perfume”

“His Perfume” appears in Poetry Northwest Fall-Winter 2008-09 v3.n2, our sixth in the new series. Of her poem Kelly-DeWitt writes, “we usually think of perfume as something attractive—so I wanted to play off of that idea in this poem. It’s a poem about the body as flesh, a thing in and of itself, that has a life of its own apart from the consciousness that inhabits it, with a death and a perfume of its own making. The poem is written in unrhymed tercets; tercets have a shape and pacing I’m comfortable with.

“Lastly—like many people who were held captive inside dangerous childhoods, I have always had escape and survival fantasies. The ending of the poem probably comes out of that, and out of my many flights back and forth between Hawaii (my mother’s birthplace, and where I spent much of my childhood) and the ‘Mainland.’ I think at some level I also had in mind an allusion to WWII and my father’s military service in the South Pacific.”

His Perfume

It wicked from his meat
in the thick of bedroom
gloom, a sweet and sour

sauce of breath and sweat;
of Scotch malt steamed
through all the pores, or

bourbon, a dozen jiggers,
fumes floating out all
the fissures, the flues

until air grew complicit,
redolent of pitch pine,
resins—and groggy

enough a child of six
could pass out cold;
sometimes vodka,

so clean, almost a lemon
scent, funneling in, but
a rancid stink coming out:

the body’s long exhale;
lobes and ventricles,
capillaries making good

use of available exits
like passengers on a plane
going down in the Pacific.

Ahead: the crash: the cold-fish
flesh on its sober bed, stripped
of any life preservers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Susan Kelly-Dewitt is the author of The Fortunate Islands, Cassiopeia Above the Banyan Tree, and seven previous chapbook or letterpress collections. Her work has also been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily.

His Perfume appears in the Fall-Winter 2008-09 v3.n2 issue of Poetry Northwest Subscribe today