- Kind: Perfectbound
- Pages: 152
- Language: English
- Date Published: September 2023
- ISBN 978-1-953252-89-0
Linnaeus Sniffs Around The Capital
Carolus Linnaeus…proposed seven basic scent classes:
aromatic, fragrant, musky, garlicky, repulsive, nauseous, and goaty.”
—NYT This Day In History: Feb. 22,’83: “Sense of Smell Proves to be Surprisingly Subtle”
At first the press conferences
smelled like smoke-filled back rooms,
crowded and unruly, but effective.
Notebook pages fluttered
like albino eagles.
Pens wrote for miles
about taxes and race and dead rivers.
Now, there is no destination at all,
just the smell of empty chairs
—which is the smell of funerals—
and far-off down a maze of dim hallways,
cheap coffee burning on a hotplate.
Deceptive, it insinuates itself through
the air conditioners of Congress, rises from the urinals
of the Executive Offices, scents even the
lobbies of the Dept. of Agriculture, where it is
misrepresented as “bees and honey.” As with diesel fumes,
some find it pleasant. It carries, however,
dangers of many kinds: suffocation, diminished cognition,
verbal slip-ups, a tendency toward blather. Like the
flowers of Rappacini, though it seems
beautiful, it kills. “Breathe among these beauties,”
then dead: you die.
No, not “flagrant,” through
there is much of that,
enough to set off the soul’s smoke alarms.
What happens daily smells like alewives
rotting ashore, shoals of minnows
poisoned below the power plant,
dead heifers swelling in a West Virginia meadow.
Dark waters smell so, and the first three circles of hell,
even the moldy ruins of some warehouse
full of a million spoiled American apple pies.
A sort of sharper moldiness,
not exactly musty but close: just one letter off.
Imagine the smoke as ham burns and burns
in a skillet. This is called filibuster.
Think of the overloaded sump below a flock
of migrants’ trailers. This is called governing.
Imagine grandmother locked in her own
fruit cellar, long-rotten peaches
sticky on the shelves. Potatoes with
gouged-out eyes. Imagine crowded down there,
shoulder to shoulder, unwashed caucuses of men
in shabby suits counting stolen ballots
and laughing. This is called
Hours later, after the acquittal,
it still lives on the breath of Congress
so that you turn your head away, blinking.
It is like an anti-perfume: take that, you beautiful republic.
It is cloven, like the devil’s hooves.
It is underground, like that exile, righteousness.
It is overwhelming, scenting everything
like a smashed skunk in the aisles
of the Senate, or the stink of bushfires,
a whole ignited Oregon approaching Pennsylvania Avenue,
storming in on all sides.
Like a bad paraphrase of Amendments to the Constitution,
it sickens the whole populace. Hands with which
to sign last-minute, prophylactic bills suddenly fall off.
Consciences explode like beaten piñatas.
Curb-side drains emit gray clouds of legislation.
Restraints on pollution are waved as the skies
darken with fracking mist. Lungs fill
with radium. The eyes of newborns
glow a neon green, and milk is banned,
along with the mothers who produce it.
This is the most characteristic of all: a stink that feeds on
anything—pointed lies, dull misinformation, fanged
and aggressive stupidity. It chews
the cracking bones of the state. Citizens
can smell it—bad barnyard, swill with bloated pigs,
coops of dead hens. Good ideas lie everywhere
under mounds of fresh earth while government
undertakers purse their lips and count their dollars.
Theirs is the most expanding
work in the economy. Congratulations
are thrown at their feet and become dead rabbits.
Seasoned with paper and stale legislation, soups simmer
on the stoves of Washington,
a stiff flipped bird—an eagle—in every pot.
Richard Hague, a native of Steubenville, Ohio in the Appalachian Ohio River Valley, taught at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati for 45 years. While there he engaged in other enterprises and adventures, including adjuncting at Edgecliff College and at Xavier University, his alma mater, commercial urban gardening, hosting writers workshops, and teaching for a few summers at the Institute for Professional Development and Graduate School of Education at Northeastern University in Boston. His high school career ended when he refused to sign an anti-gay and anti-worker’s rights Archdiocese of Cincinnati contract in May 2014. Not long after, he was named Writer-in-Residence at Thomas More University in northern Kentucky, where he continued as Artist-in-Residence until 2022. He now teaches and writes with The Originary Arts Initiative. He is author, co-editor, or editor of 20 collections, most recently Riparian: Poetry, Short Prose and Photography Inspired by the Ohio River (Dos Madres Press, 2019), Earnest Occupations: Teaching, Writing, Gardening & Other Local Work (Bottom Dog Press, 2018), Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia (Dos Madres Press, 2017), Where Drunk Men Go: A Long Poem (Dos Madres Press, 2015) and During The Recent Extinctions: New & Selected Poems l984-2012 (Dos Madres Press), for which he was given the Weatherford Award in Poetry. Other books include Milltown Natural: Essays and Stories from a Life (Bottom Dog Press, l997), nominated for a National Book Award, the poetry collections Alive in Hard Country (Bottom Dog Press, 2003), named 2003 Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association, Ripening (The Ohio State University Press, l984), for which he was named Co-Poet of the Year in Ohio in l985, and Lives of the Poem: Community & Connection in a Writing Life (Wind Publications, 2005) a multi-genre memoir, poetry collection, and teaching handbook. In l994, The literature and writing Program he designed at Purcell Marian High School received the First Place, United States of America, “Excellence In Teaching English” Award, Native-Speaking Category, from the English-Speaking Union. He has been a Finalist for The Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers, the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction, The Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod, The Iowa Prize in Nonfiction, and a Bob Costas Writing Award. He continues to live in Cincinnati.