“A Night Out at the Anosmia Restaurant” & Other Poems by Philip Raisor

A Night Out at the Anosmia[*] Restaurant

I accepted the offer from the pale estuary of fingers
pinched on two thin slices of jicama tapped lightly
with lime and a weathered rim of sweet chili powder.
“Gracias,” I said in my best Ricardo Montalbán lip-sink.
Friday night at our favorite Mexican franchise.
“Can you taste that at all?” she asked. I sucked
and replied that even where math was the official
language, I was a zero. “Can you even smell it?”
I inhaled/exhaled (twice) like a fissure in a gas drum.
“No” I coughed into a Marimba band that circled
our table like day players in a mob scene. It was a test.
It was over. I failed.
           This, before one week of packed nostrils,
hospital food, bones splayed in velcro braces, blanched
rooms of tubes, sheets, and “how is my little old patient
feeling today”—I could even hear prayers sidling by
in mustard-colored carts. Finally, I was rolled
in a wheelchair to a garden as pungent as nitrogen.
Let me tell you about absence, nothingness,
days of longing for durian or thioacetone, for a breeze
of puerile air, when a body is shoveled from a dumpster,
when rotten eggs, smog, a sewage pit are not merely
passing plankton. I longed to walk along the beach
where sand sprayed into my mouth like a timpani
of shredded crabs, where I could watch gagging
sympathizers bury a dead whale, where the world
was not an unrepairable ship in an impossible bottle.
      Strangely, I could smell death dancing close
      but not even a plate of steaming nopales.

 

Lunch—After Flag Football Practice

You still want burgers, fries, desultory pie,
chicken tacos, long-simmering beans,
pots of grits, wedges of beets, you crave
the wraps, foot long buns, old country fare,
fast food wickedness, TUMS for indigestion.

Children, your grandfather is ill.
Those Saturday romps at the county fair
are done, pony rides, the off-road bikes,
learning the arm-flick for small brown trout,
dips in the Mississinewa—over. Bless him.

Come in, come in for the fresh repast,
a room of neutral colors, candle-lit, cloth
placemats. The appetizer today is a salad-
stuffed avocado, followed by a main course
of Rice Cake with Nut Butter and Banana,

and, children, you’ll love the tea, straight
from Rangoon, and the novel, parvenu sauces.
I know, this is radical, so to say, but the fact is
we feel the old appetites sanctioned violence
and these new diets will be transformative.
Hey, kids, where you going?

 

Yesterday 

some scholars say—

is a marketplace. Day-old kale slipped under fresh
chard, a slab of sockeye nailed to a hunk of pomfret.

To see it, smell it, we reach into labyrinths
and wouldn’t you know yesterday is just leaving.

Yesterday is a cement ball, skull, someone’s last
stand recorded on vellum, impaled with a ball-peen.

It is there, we know it, the movie of what was,
etymologically sound, circa yesterday AD.

The past is a ricochet of memory, gravel that hides
what’s left, absence everyone wants.     Gone.

Unless, some say, we want it back—

So where does it go, all burned up and soggy
with tears? Albums, computer chips, revisionist

textbooks, forums on how the present is doing,
a half-filled well sucking down debris we leave

behind. I wonder why buckets we drop
into our past come back so empty? Yesterday

a childhood friend and I planted rutabaga
under a tree where his grandfather was hanged.

We tried to bring him back. The dead laughed
at our funny masks and lanterns, our hunger. 

To the past, the living ask—

Bits and pieces, victories, failures, how do we know
what to save? My father (the talisman) stirs coals

in our backyard grill,  my uncle (the scop) culls
stories of revolutions. All change, they say, takes us  

back to where we’re going. Dungeons open, dust speaks.
On this night of cobia, Flemish oil, sweet corn,

Prometheus falls again again. Mrs. Pankhurst rants.
We’re all rebels, they waft, children of darkness, citizens  

of light, and I smell the aroma of the world drifting
sweet, sour, subversive. Yesterday, slipping away,

amiable, nods toward what is about to happen.

 

—About the Author—

Philip Raisor has published six books of poetry, a memoir, and an edited collection of essays on
W. D. Snodgrass. His most recent books of poetry are That Naked Country (2019) and Early Morning Koffee Klatch at the Egg ‘n Hash Sitdown (Chapbook, 2019). His work has appeared in Southern Review, Sewanee Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Aethlon, Chautauqua, Poet Lore, The Writer’s Chronicle, and elsewhere. He is an emeritus professor at Old Dominion University. Visit him at philipraisor.com, and read more of his poems Here.

[*] “When I was in my early forties, I had a nasal operation. After the surgery, the doctor showed me a jar full of infected polyps, and said, ‘I’m sorry, but your olfactory bulb is in there, too.’” I have had no sense of taste or smell since then. Still, I love the anticipation, discovery of dining with friends and family.” –PR