- The Attar of Roses
Ten thousand rose petals in a cookie tin. Yellow rosesembroidered on a pillow sham. The hard rosesmy father carved from a pine plank.I can push my fingers between their petalsin the same way a man tucks a thumbinto the gills of his catch. A census taker asks,Are you the head of the household? How longhave you lived at this address? Without a functional GPS,prayers may fall into elliptical orbits.The angel Azrael yanked believers into heavenby their sidelocks. Many will see Godbecause they have the right hairdo. Maybea billion. I wouldn’t mind if death were a pressureat the top of my skull, a wrench, and then a pulling away.I saw the passing of Halley’s comet, or maybeanother comet. It looked like a jellyfish, a believer’s sidelock,a translucent nightgown. A comet’s return may triggerelectrical interference. Some will see this as a sign.They’ll bathe in rosewater. My father softened his facewith Jergens lotion, pat-pat the cheek. Pat-patthe brow. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, he’s all gone now.Census takers rely on demographic categories.Has anyone in the household been pricked by a thorn?As I grow older, I leave more of the boxes empty.For gender, I suggest rosehips. But in the future,census forms will cross-breed racial categories with hybridtea roses. Rose petals left to brown in a metal tinsmell like summer on the high plains. When I shake the tinI hear wings and census forms, hear someone pretendingthey’re not there, whispering hush, hush, maybe my father,or maybe someone trying to sweep up the chaos:categories, boxes, and containers filled with desiccations.For place of origin, I say what Welles said, “Rosebud.”I say a fragile molt, shaken, stirred: dried rose petalsin a metal tin, ten thousand tongues. But I refuse to be silent.I pin the Rosette Nebula to my hair, take up a comet [End Page 25] for a handkerchief. Pretend I’m Dorothy Dandridgesinging “Dat’s Love.” Dried rose petals? Census figures?But maybe a tin of dried rose petals is the ark of the covenant.Remove the lid, fling the petals outward with allyour strength beyond the barriers and gravitational greed.Yes! A new constellation, a comet that will returnfor each census strewing galactic ice and the attarof ancient roses, a tether for the unseen to yank and hold. [End Page 26]
Janice N. Harrington is the author of Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone (BOA, 2006), The Hands of Strangers (BOA, 2011), and Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin (BOA, 2016). She curates A Space for Image, a blog on poetic imagery, and teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois.