“ …that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc.1
There were lots of wild plum trees in the fencerows,
and when they bloomed, they put out a sweet smell
and there are lilacs on almost every farm; in fact,
that big hedgerow over by you has been there forever.
And in the springtime the aroma of the apple trees.
When the white blossoms of the honey locusts
come in, they are pretty to look at, and fragrant, too,
but people think of them as nothing more than weeds.
And this time of the year everybody’s spreading manure
or now its maybe emptying the pit. It smells like liquid gold
because commercial fertilizer costs so much.
The rain itself has a really great smell that I’m sure
is different in different places. But one of the nicest smells
of course, is hay, that’s new cut, alfalfa, and then if
its conditioned, crinkled a bit, the smell of hay when its
dry and ready to bale—or a load of hay in the barn
if it isn’t heating, a load that’s dried and stored.
With good silage I have to pick it up and smell it
because it’s so good. If you are filling silo, a lot
of the silage spills out the side and if you don’t
clean it up and it rains overnight and then it gets
hot and muggy and starts molding—that’s a whole
nuther smell, a bad one, like rancid butter
but one you’d recognize right away. When you
get it on your clothes, it won’t come off. Both our
families were German—we made silage the same way
we made sauerkraut. Dairy farmers back east made it
from green corn fodder and it caught on out here.
There’s the smell of the dairy barn, summer or winter.
We used to milk by hand so you smelled the milk
in the pail and that had a very nice vapor to it.
Even the cows, their breaths can be bad or
it can be pretty good if they are happy—so
a contented barn has its own certain smell, too.
After the cows go out in the pasture, the manure
is loose, it’s very fresh, distinctive, mixed with
the grass, and they’re crushing the grass, and
lying on it, so when the cows are pasturing
there’s a tremendous number of smells that
would trigger your memories of this place.
We used to have hives up here, and when
it was hot, the bees would be fanning.
I’d move in close and the action of their wings
would waft the smell of honey from the boxes.
There are still some wild plums down in the woods
but very few. They used to be kind of thick
in the fencerows --our neighbor, George,
instead of cleaning out the fencerow
he’d just move the fence in a little more
so it came to be about 16 feet wide.
So we had to cut that back. We must have
grubbed out all the plums when I was
in high school, which was bad for the birds
but simplified things. That’s where all the plums were.
We did save a few, transplanted here in the yard
so I can still breathe in their scent, taste that tart jam.
Thanks to Bob Redig 8/25/14
Ken McCullough. Diet For The Smallest Planet. In three-color fold out performance.Foldout booklet. $10 postpaid from Longhouse.
McCullough’s most recent books of poetry are Walking Backwards, Sicomoro.Oropéndola (published in Colombia), and Broken Gates, as well as a book of stories, Left Hand. He has received numerous awards for his poetry. McCullough has worked closely with Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur, survivor of the Pol Pot regime; they have published Sacred Vows, a bilingual edition of U’s poetry, and Crossing Three Wildernesses, a memoir. McCullough has two sons, Galway and Orion. He lives on a farm outside Winona, MN with his wife, Lynn Nankivil, a playwright. In 2014, McCullough will start his second term as Poet Laureate of Winona.