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5-10 years ago

Red Rock Country

 If you breathe deeply when you are in red rock country, you can smell geology. The smell of millennia, of ages old. The smell of dust and bones and the span of wing tips over boulders red as hunger, heavy as memory.

You don't hold your breath among all that sandstone, that sage and pine and sycamore. You breathe your own life into it and remember a time before and your remembering sets cottonwood leaves atremble and lifts through the clear air to blue sky. 

That sky is how the name turquoise came to be. This is what they called azure. It is lapis at mid-afternoon and sapphire near evening, before the lavender, the orange sherbet, the magenta so deep it has a sound.

You hear big cats growling and imagine bears in caves where there are none. The hissing of snakes, the translucent skin of scorpion. It is your longing for something you once knew.
You gather fallen leaves, thread brown pine needles in your hair, stow broken rocks like dried scabs in your pocket and search for signs of recognition.

"Do you feel home here?" you ask your sisters. "Yes, yes," one says. The other is gazing at blocks of red rock, stacked as if by a god who lives close to the ground, whose blood is clear rivers, whose heart you beat when you walk upon it. 

Your sister is imagining building her own red clay walls. She will line them with quartz, she says. She is talking to God.

- Judy Reeves


Life, in its grandeur,
flickers at the corners of my eyes.
Arms screaming wide,
chests heaving to the skies,
the salty smell of warm sweat
threatening to break out;
I hear a buzz,
a hum, an excuse of being.
Life is elsewhere,
some other time, somebody else,
a fantasy of pixels and skin.
Not me—
this doesn’t count.
And yet the ticker never quells.
All that is left is to observe:
elongated moments,
the relentlessness of nightfall,
others living.
The dead recede
into a memory of features
and stories half-recalled,
less vivid than a dream.
Tomorrow I’ll remember you:
your weathered face, your thinning hair
matted with sweat and anger,
sitting on the kitchen sofa,
the paint chipping off its cheap metal frame,
its florid fabric heavy with the weight
of too many tales unfurled.
And the silence you left behind,
echoing cold off the terrazzo floors.

This time I didn’t visit you
because you aren’t there.
I hate to think of you watching
all this and longing.
It’s the longing, always the longing…
Like I long for this smell
antiseptic as a vinyl hospital hallway
under fluorescent light:
brash, ominous and thumping.
At the end of the hallway
a window looks over the parking lot—
this is what you’re missing:
another day coming to an end,
the hazy twilight of an ugly city.
And this—my anger,
always the anger,
at your not being there.

Ashraf Osman

Newport Ave.

When I was little, my sister and I would always visit my extended family every summer in Arroyo Grande, Ca. It's a small little town, about 15 minutes from San Luis Obispo. We stayed at my Auntie's house on Newport Avenue. My Uncle, who lives there as well, is an alcoholic and smoker. My memories of being in this house come from the smell of cigarette smoke and the stench of alcohol. Anything he would say never made any sense so we would always just laugh it off. He lives in his "cave" downstairs. It has a smell of musty cigarette smoke and a sharp tinge to the nose of aged alcohol. My sister, cousins and I always played hide and seek or we would just chase each other through the house (which means running through my Uncle's cave). Once we got home from our visit, all of our stuff was engulfed with this smoky,homeless man, alcoholic smell. It's a wonder why my parents never thought we were the ones smoking...

- Kiana Thiesfeld

Horseflesh and Tropical Coconut

She leans over me, her still wet hair quite literally dripping water onto my shoulders. The light tropical scent of her shampoo wafts over me; the same shampoo she's been using for 10 years. 

The first time this smell was etched into my memory was a night 9 years ago, when I had stayed with her overnight. Just lying awake in the small bed next to the person I would in the future come to love. Her window was always thrown wide open, without a screen, and the night breeze brought with it the smell of her horde of horses. The musty warm smell of the steady horses was one others would complain to me about, but one that I secretly delighted in. Just outside, weeds threatened to invade the room, growing tall and wild, strong bitter and rustling with spider webs. Crickets and birds were so loud and close it sounded as if they may have been in the room itself. Next to me she slept soundly in the place she had always lived, smelling of coconut. 

These would become the aromas that would always, without fail bring up her image.