By W. S. Merwin
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
I started wearing perfume again just over a year ago, not daily, but on occasions I want to be remembered. Because the olfactory bulb in the brain has such an intimate relationship with the emotional amygdala and the hippocampus, responsible for associative learning, scent can conjure memories like nothing else. Therefore my perfume, warmed by my body, becomes a language, waterlily sweet thickened with amber musk, sharp with vanilla, my name as a ripple through the air, ever changing, the apple bright notes fading quickly, replaced by apricot skin, delicious with chocolate and as smooth to welcome hands. It was chosen specifically to be as honest a self-representation as possible, so that I can be conjured with it, a spirit named. Triggered, linked, set, and match. My scent part of the toolkit, like my pen, like my tongue. Mercenary social graces, my hair my banner, my fight my own.
A touch in the fiery tangle on top of my head and a touch on the collar of his shirt, a drop to the hollow of my throat, a drop behind his ear, a mist that became my invisible self, recognized as deep as the lizard brain.
Knife bearer, dream walker, post-geographic mythologist. I have been claimed again, a shadow drifting through space and time, a gift I left in a small green bag. He was downstairs, I was helping upstairs, packing alone. Enough time to leave my memory in his luggage, the only way I could think of to go with him, the scent clinging to his things like we did to each other, rarely farther than arm’s reach, as brassy but as certain as when I met his eyes, picked his necklace up from the dresser, and slipped the pendant into my mouth, (I, too, am like you), defiance, acceptance, a dare and a promise both. Story-telling subconscious, unconscious together, our minds told the same narrative while asleep our first night, something I had forgotten could happen, if I even ever knew, a cold-reading shared between us, a city to explore, climbing old buildings with rusted stairs, our footsteps clanging, a ladder. When we woke, even as it defied logic, all I wanted was to say, “Thank you”, “That was beautiful”, “I love you”, and “Let’s do that again.”
He unearthed it this week. I had been wondering when he would find my hidden, invisible gift, the only way I could be there when I need to be, even if only as a conditioned response. My ghost sent, wrapped in memory, a reminder of comfort and love during troubled times. My hope had been pinned on the chance that he wouldn’t open the bag during a mundane day, but only when he traveled again, leaving home to take care of heavy events. Now it has happened, a relative dying, I find myself waiting, my breath held, for the other penny to drop.