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Cave Canem: A Special Section

At Broadway and Market, buses      kneel at the curb like Indian elephants and I wait where everything is      pick up and move; where merchants

have erected sidewalk shops      on folding tables. There is the bootleg video salesman,      there are sunglasses, urban fashions,

incense and fragrant oils.      A voice, words simmer and flow like smoke and fume, saying      “these oils mix with your own,

last longer than a Corolla      in a chop shop yard, longer than it takes to turn powder into rock.”      And this history fascinates me:

Black Love, Paco Rabanne, Vanilla      Fields, China Doll, Nubian or Mecca Musk. I am handed a stained piece of paper      Like a greasy napkin, pedal thumb

and forefinger beneath my nose. An estranged      instinct rises from my fingertips like dust blown from the grooves of a gospel 78.      I’m asked what I think. Why argue the naming

of clouds? Olfaction is a stationary camera,      it captures whatever may come into view: The man who laid a wet rug of cigarette      breath on my shoulder, the strawberry [End Page 1024]

schoolgirl mindful of lip gloss kisses      and the careful negotiations between taste and smell. These memories preserved like people      of Pompeii, speaking with air as heavy

and dim as that great gray sky, the falling      ash of it. Each brow marked with a dusty thumb. But I am unholy and academic and wish      these moments fleeting like the feeling

on your fingers after handling candles. So I, I’ll getcha      on the way back, fam. For real, for real. My eyes water with the wonder of annointment      and what vulnerability precedes a sneeze.

Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo is an associate editor of poetry for Painted Bride Quarterly and is currently working on the MFA in poetry at New York University as the New York Times Fellow.

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