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Sorting the Smoke

ISSUE:  Winter 1986
If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would
                  distinguish them.



In the thick smoke, the nostrils lift
and sniff: cedar roof beams, the soggy
blanket that has hung all these years
in the shed, paint from kitchen chairs,
the singed fur of cat and the flesh
of cat, and the loquat tree by the wall,
and thyme, and books in grandfather’s room
and his wool robe and the mattress
and grandfather and the coarse grasses
behind the house. Whose nostrils are
we speaking of, downwind of the fire?


The smoke billows in dark eddies
as though the world hid just behind it,
as though it might drift off, and the road,
the child in white, the blind horse tied
to the cypress tree might reappear
like fishing boats still hung with mist.
But no. The smoke does thin and swirl
and fade, but nothing steps out, no shapes
re-form in the middle distance;
only the emptiness comes clear
to the watcher who himself is smoke.
A faint smell lingers, and the nostrils
sort it into everything that was.


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