A narrow slate sidewalk
covered in pine needles
led to the side door of my grandmother’s house.

Old house, old neighborhood
wrapped in misshapen sidewalk heaved from frost
still with a few iron horse hitching posts.

There was a smell at the side door
pervasive, persistant, earthy
lingering wordless in the shade.

Purple lilacs in the spring
pale blue iris in June
English ivy up the house

Periwinkle, leaves so dark they looked black
grape vines for birds to pluck fruit in the fall
summer window box of red and white petunias

The smell was none of these
no lilacs or iris or petunias ever
smelled this old.

the month of the damned
in western New York.

I couldn’t stand it any longer
the unending gloom must have forced me to ask
what is that smell?

What is that smell under this tree that surely lost needles and cones far exceeding the rate it could replace them, next to the wrought iron fence, between the houses, in perpetual shade among all the old that I had the capacity to imagine.

My mother said


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