Ancients washed

in rivers.

Prairie people with buckets

by coal stoves,

and the perfumed

hanky under the nose

of a Victorian

lady, her defense

against the scents of others: heavy

hoops hanging off hips,

crowns of funk

riding the skull. Venn diagram

of smells: overlapping

clouds in crowds

miasma of manure

and chimney smoke, a child’s

bright stink so low

to the ground. Stray

dogs after a hard rain, wet coats



And I don’t want

to shower, refuse to fill

the tub. I’d rather stew

in secretions, secret

signs of hormones and health:

an Atlantis in my armpit, oily

head slick

as a hard candy shell.


Is this a form of self-love,

love of the day-to-day

disgusting—ear wax,

dandruff, bellybutton

grit? Crusted

mustard under



Or am I

excavating the animal

me: freshly-groomed spaniel

doomed to roll

in the pile of expired

squirrel? There’s

passion in decomposition—

sloughed skin spared

from the drain,

sea of cells in sebum, rickety

chains of DNA

adrift. Too much is lost

to the loofa or the

lime and almond

sugar scrub.


I won’t be reborn

under steaming

water. This

living dirt, redolent

with the promise of death,

is home.


Wendy Oleson is the author of Please Find Us (winner of the Gertrude Press 2017 Fiction Chapbook Contest) and Our Daughter and Other Stories (winner of the Map Literary 2016 Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award). Her stories, poems, and hybrid work have appeared recently in Cimarron ReviewCalyx, and Copper Nickel. Wendy teaches for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension and Washington State at Tri-Cities and serves as an associate editor for Fairy Tale Review and Memorious Magazine.