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What Smells Dead by Rigoberto Gonzalez
published in Volume 3, Issue 3 on July 8th, 1996

If through whisper and caress we sense them,
if the yellow light sneaking out
at the splitting of their bones betrays them,
why not notice the dead through smell?

Grandfathers, those smokers,
are subtle, dismissing an aroma of breath
penetrated by the lit match,
or of that final suck--the faint burning up
of the filter's edge
as if in quiet protest for having been buried

in clean coats. Old women take
their old women smells and insist
on keeping them clasped
to their clothes like spare bobby pins;
but their graves will radiate like warm glass,
the air made heavy--
the odor of burnt sugar escaping the pot.

The dead don't always have idle smells,
like those that linger at the tips
of gloves, or those that rise from the mouths of shoes,
from the chair just emptied;

there is also the discharhe of passions.
In lovers, the older the corpse, the stronger the letting go.
Secrets finally resurface,
the skin submits to its own decay.
Hands set free their collection of sticky oils;
necks and thighs give up the touch
in other hands, the scent of money;
tongues release their love of liquor, of tongues.

The rest are also gluttons; they smell of basil
and clove. Their bodies exhume the spices
that in death consume the flesh. 

Yet frequently the dead remain undetectible--
we believe they no longer smell like us.
At night, these smells don't wake us,
but we still absorb them, then breathe them out.
Through us
they settle on the moss like sweat.

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