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Abstract Painting

from Perfumer's Organ

         Some perfume promises to compel everyone in my radius to move closer, touch me, and
fall senseless. In doing so I can cement my entire person— everything from my gender to my
sense of adventure. Chemistry!
         And metaphor builds its chain up from my wrists and throat.
         Through which material will I seduce God, induce my own transformation?
         And through which process?

         Green sacra and ambergris smell like an animal in the dark, which smells like bad
breath, like cleaning product, like a fire of holy purification.
         Like follows like. Though black hemlock or Tsuga mertensiana is completely unrelated to
poison hemlock or Conium maculatum. So process gets into the weeds from the beginning.
         Still, I am smoldering in the woods, unextinguished, a hazard with how dry the weather’s
been. I am not trying to become more accurate to myself, not attempting a distillation, but a
complete and total manifestation of change itself; I am trying to more myself.
         Tetrameria of phrases, a metaphor covering a metaphor; a compounding pharmacy.
         Perhaps I can be remade well, God.
         By putting the green sacra dangerously close to my heart.
         Of course, since process never led to the desired goal and since the individual parts of it
were never carried out in any standardized manner, damp—moss—tall fir—sun—barely coming
through—bone fire—leukosis—jet dreamy, gosh.
         Maybe if I lean against the sun and look at the moon. Or settle for household gods
appeased by clary sage and saliva.
         A gosh, wandering the forest, seducing God into a revelation—and, in the process, giving
away the game.

         I admit I am tired of not believing. I am after prima materia, the substance that may
reunify time and space so that I might look into the sky, see my double, then shear my hair in
recognition.

         The perfumer’s organ: sandalwood, olibanum; the pipe organ: swell to great; my organ:
roiling against its fellows.
          Ambergris tincturing in the dark hallway—

 

         What is that warm butter smell?
         Like trying to find the very heart of human cleanliness and finding only soil and metal,
ribbons of life surging beneath.
         Under the day is where the night lives.
         Under the night is the iris.

         It was in bed the fever hit me—I was shivering naked beneath four blankets and you
reached over to warm me but my skin was hot to the touch.
         Books unfolded into screens, into a mouth, running into the heart of a video, throwing a
phone through a burning church.

         When the night did not last all night I rolled over and asked you if I had kept you up.
         Parsley strikes a loud chord on the knife.
         I was feeling stiff and unfocused. The palo santo in the top drawer leached into the
atmosphere and it was like it couldn’t be stopped, as if the molecules of holiness brooked no
walls. Did I want to wait to be healed? Or to “work through it” and feel the fever and weakness
burn off me like resin in a charcoal burner, choking the air and making a mess?
         I built a table with my weak hands, went to the grocery store, laid a hundred miles of
good road. The fever and weakness burned off me like resin in a charcoal burner.

         Raisinwood; rosin for the bow. It’s like the cello’s been fermenting and emits, instead of
music, the warmest of all possible scents, where to slide the finger up the neck is to reason with
the dead. Give me that living sound back, you might say. But instead of freshness, something
better and darker. But give back that living freshness.
         The muleheadedness of give me freshness over the seasoned.

         Like the grape soda scent of misspelling it “lavendar.” Alphabets slide off surfaces like
oil, at the very points where memory adheres. The ad on the bottle said “take the plunge”—
         I spray perfume and it bores a hole. Anticipating the presence of carrion, the vulture’s
head is bare of feathers.
         Trample the flowers; go to the empty heart.

         Here’s one fantasy for you: lily of the valley with its leaves cut off, your eyes seeking
mine.
         I can’t even go further: it’s deep in a cloud of purity, lit from behind. Slice out the verbs,
burn them from your memory.
         Cream just before it sours: whatever flower existed before death had its first thought. A
forest outside time, divorced by rain.
         An unpleasant memory threatened to spoil the morning, until I remembered one little
bell rings from the center of a pleasant grove. There was something I forgot, something very
tragic — but we are in the presence of the Christchild, muguet, the labor rights movement. The
day is just a little bell.

         Today they took something out of my shoulder.
         I got lightheaded in the presence of a needle and my vision crowded around a
photograph on the opposite wall—an orange hillside, a stripe of green conifers standing between
lakes of gold. And it isn’t synesthesia to say that they used a needle to sew me up.
         Can’t you see I’m trying to be as literal as possible?
         I lay down on the wood pulp and let the needle do its work, excavating something along
the imaginary line that extends from the top of my head past one ear down the side of my throat
unbroken to my fingers on the left side—as if to clear a blocked path, a downed tree in the way.
Sometimes there are too many doors, so that I am always in a vestibule to several states at once.
         I could have fallen into that photograph of a fall scene completely, I would have been
gone if they let me; I would have been completely out of it.

 

Like playing three notes at once in the clean, dry warmth of a sauna, as if the houseplants
were being watered without lifting a finger.

 

         The accident is myrtle. The scientist is wandering around his prodigious grounds. It’s
late and the moon has barely said a word to the wind all night. Rumi’s pet nightingale sobs like a
drunk in the garden. Can you sense it; something being out of whack? It’s midnight. We’re all
gathering in the street to look for whatever made that sudden noise. And there’s a white flower
tonguing the air—car alarm. The dream of the one person in the neighborhood still asleep
revolves around that white flower like the spoke of a wheel.

 

         Meanwhile, my own scent is a room I can’t escape.
         Is there a voice in the background? Dust several years thick inters the carcass of a
mosquito hawk, the crane fly, so huge it might as well stand up, walk across the filthy living
room, and sit down to play “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” on the piano.

         I thought of the breath of the dead crane fly and tasted something like pepper at the back
of my throat.

Lindsey Webb is the author of Plat (Archway Editions, forthcoming) and the chapbooks House and Perfumer’s Organ. Her writings have appeared in Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, and Lana Turner, among others. She lives in Salt Lake City, where she is a Clarence Snow Memorial Fellow and PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah.

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