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 sixty years ago, getting ready to eat bluegills. 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 (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 University of Arkansas Press, from The Dirt Riddles by Michael Walsh, University of Arkansas Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of Michael Walsh and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.