The Smell Test by Noah Stetzer

The Smell Test

Ten thousand jasmine flowers and twenty
eight dozen roses are required to make
a single vial of this landmark perfume —
to it they add essence from the tropical
ylang ylang tree along with the michelia
magnolia mixed in with the white
star-shaped petals of the tuberose:
a concoction of not one particular earthly
manifestation, but an achievement
of the platonic ideal of a flower. My room
is full of this unforgettable scent, it masks
the old body stink from weeks in bed
and makes the room feel hot. Do smells
have heat; doesn’t cinnamon and clove
already smell warm: is it fall, is it almost
Christmas; and mint smelling cool: a sparkling
pointed smell of something made better,
something clean. Too many smells in here
make it feel too close, and flowers all up
and down the spectrum. The room is crowded
in floral notes, someone smarter
would probably say. This doctor’s using
very few words, she seems to be saying
the very least amount of words she needs
to when I ask her to explain if I have HIV
or AIDS. And her kind of not-talking talking
is what I imagine parents must use
all the time: no one is to blame, it’s not
your fault, everything will be okay, of course
you’re safe. Wearing this perfume my mother
wore when I was little, this doctor’s saying
that no one uses those kind of words
the way she thinks I know I mean them.
These words that still appear on the forms
the hospital use even though really they’ve fallen
out of practice. It sounds to me like what you say
when it’s supposed to sound like a good
true thing but that it’s not real.

Noah Stetzer is the author of Because I Can See Needing a Knife (Red Bird Chapbooks). His poems have appeared in Sixth Finch, The Cortland Review, The Night Heron Barks, and other journals. Noah can be found online at

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