The Perception Prize

Debra Daniel

In The End What Is Redolent?

My youngest sister always said

she could smell sick: the garlic stench

of flu, the rust of our periods,

the nutty congestion of a head cold.

 

I know what she mentioned

those last days: the cotton damp of swabs,

bright prick of alcohol, latex of bandaids,

the vase of spicy lilies from the gift shop,

 

the citrus de-tangler my middle sister

brought to comb through her matted hair,

lavender lotion for her bruised arms,

the minty chewables for nausea.

 

What filled her when speaking stopped?

Was it the violet cologne our grandmother

always wore? Old Spice and cigarettes

familiar to our father? In those last breaths

 

were there scents of something delicious?

Chocolate fragranced with cloud? A warm

coffee-scented reunion? An afterlife

tangy and fresh-cut as a summer lawn?

 

 

 

 

Comment by the Judge: Of all the senses, our sense of smell is most closely connected to memory, and this poet does a beautiful job of engaging the reader’s olfaction. I admire how the poet weaves such important and powerful details throughout the poem, such as the dying younger sister’s ability to smell illness and the middle sister’s brushing her youngest sister’s hair with citrus de-tangler.

 

Honorable mentions: Carol Frischmann, Lawrence Rhu