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“I’m coediting an anthology of poems, The Book of Scented Things, that engages with perfumes. Each of the 100 contributors received an individually selected vial of scent and wrote a poem in response. I decided to give myself the same prompt. One of my husband’s fragrances allowed me to write about the felt loneliness of a military deployment. The poem is an exploded villanelle that continues, perhaps a little longer than it should; in my experience as a military spouse, deployments too often feel as if they are a series of maddening refrains.”
—Jehanne Dubrow

The Long Deployment

Jehanne Dubrow
For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet
	and pillow. I lift a blanket to my face.
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet,  	
	like sandalwood left sitting in the heat	
or cardamom rubbed on a piece of lace. 
	For weeks, I breathe his body. In the sheet	
I smell anise, the musk that we secrete		 	
	with longing, leather and moss. I find a trace  
of bitter incense paired with something sweet.   
	Am I imagining the wet scent of peat	
and cedar, oud, impossible to erase?
	For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet— 
crushed pepper—although perhaps discreet,
	difficult for someone else to place.
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet.  
	With each deployment I become an aesthete
of smoke and oak. Patchouli fills the space
	for weeks. I breathe his body in the sheet	
until he starts to fade, made incomplete,  	
	a bottle almost empty in its case.	
There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet.  
	And then he’s gone. Not even the conceit 	
of him remains, not the resinous base.	
	For weeks, I breathed his body in the sheet.	
He was bitter incense paired with something sweet.       

Copyright © 2013 by Jehanne Dubrow. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Jehanne Dubrow. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Jehanne Dubrow

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Squint a little, and that’s my husband
in the photograph, the sailor on the left—

the one wearing a rose composed of ink
and the Little Bo Peep who stands

before a tiny setting sun and the blur
on his forearm which might be a boat—

while the sailor on the right is leaning in,

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