Aromatica Poetica is delighted to present the third in a series called Sillage by Jehanne Dubrow. She is the author of several books of poetry and prose that dance with our heart’s senses, including Taste: A Book of Small Bites, which we highly recommend! Each of the 12 poems are written in the voice of a specific perfume—this one is Carnal Flower—and were begun during the height of the pandemic. For this Sillage series, the poems are paired with a brief, lyric meditation on the challenges of turning scent into language.
Frederic Malle, 2005
Even without a body, I am flesh,
wax-petaled hunger that takes
to skin the way some vines devour walls.
I lay myself against you, press
jasmine fingers to your lips
because who needs breath.
And, no, that’s not a question—
I’m telling you don’t breathe me in,
unless you want a cooling tongue
of eucalyptus, a throat rooted
in tuberose, a fist of white blossoms
unclenching in the air.
Sometimes I wonder: what if I had discovered a love of perfume in another terrible era of my life? Adolescence, for instance, those years when I hated my body for its transformations, the sudden budding of breasts, dark hairs on my arms and legs (a shameful fuzz that I hated).
When I was fifteen, I wore a scent because all the other girls in class did. At that age, I didn’t want to be summoned into my own body. I only wanted to be left alone or, if not that, then at least left unbullied and unmocked.
The fragrance I picked had a name that announced its mood. What I remember of this aroma is a vapor of orange and bergamot, something of plums. And, true to its moniker, Happy barely lasted. I kept having to spray it again, the citrus temporary as contentment. Every hour or two, I would spray my wrists or walk through the cloud of Happy—happyhappyhappy—letting it settle on my sweater. And for a while, I would stand in that fading orchard that floated around me, a grove of mandarin trees. This was my first lesson in the way that scent can alter the feeling of a room. It can change a disposition.
A few years after, I began to wear a different perfume. It was an oil that came in a small, round bottle, the glass frosted, soft as the surface of a peach. And that’s what it smelled like. Fuzzy peaches. I was in college by then and maybe a little more willing to remember I had a body. The peach, like all stone fruit, is erotic. It has a human form. It wants to be touched. It wants to be tasted with the tip of a tongue.
And now? Recently, I drained a vial of thick tuberose and orange blossom down to nothing. When I finished it, there wasn’t even vapor left in the container.
I’m still deciding whether to order another bottle. Tuberose is an aggressive flower. Wearing it, I am briefly transfigured. I become a femme fatale, an hour-glass figure perched on a bar stool in an old film where everyone speaks quickly, each line of dialogue sharp as a stiletto heel. It’s a burden to drape myself in a scent that requires this kind of performance. Tuberose demands an appropriate costume, a certain way of slinking through a room. Could I be a seductress? Could my body be comfortable in those voracious curves?
—About the Author—
Jehanne Dubrow is the author of nine poetry collections and three books of creative nonfiction, including most recently, Exhibitions: Essays on Art & Atrocity (University of New Mexico Press, 2023). Her work has appeared in New England Review, Southern Review, and The Colorado Review, among others. She is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas.
*Read Sillage 2: Ambre Narguilé HERE*