Life must have smelled more then.
Along with dung and dust,
the urine sluicing through the tanneries
and cheeses going bad in the Agora,
the strigil-scraped and rancid oil
from wrestlers’ backs, like resined wine
and roasting joints of lamb,
would have suffused the air, if not enough
to banish sweat.
Those scents dispersed, what’s left?
Besides orations, plays, ceramics, orations,
some verse, inquiries on
the nature of the Good, presided over by
a temple whose proportions cast
a shadow on the works
of every generation that has followed.
2. District of Columbia
The present’s odor, though
noxious with exhaust,
or polysyllables of nitrogen
that manure far-sprawling fields,
may waft more faintly in comparison,
a benediction or achievement of
refrigerators and the vaccines they can hold,
and sewerage that leads unglamorously
to health, thus widening the canopy of years
beneath which we draw breath,
find entertainment, undertake
perhaps some larger task.
Above the buried genius of the Metro,
one or another borrowed idiom prevails
in castle, column, obelisk,
and an accounting made of wishes more than means
while texts of native wisdom fray
or turn to fossils under glass.
A later age may find, in this, our scent.
American Arts Quarterly, Spring 2012, Volume 29, Number 2.