April 19, 2015
What the Nose Knows

for my mother, Anne Rosemary


Floatwalking home

early June rain

muskywetearth aroma


voice lost

music-making done but

music still ringing


in my ears when

a new smell greets my nose

familiar, full, sweet.


Eyes follow scent, up-up

to shiny wet leaves,

full white blossoms.


Hello, Magnolia.


I knew it was you before I saw you,

thought, Maybe Magnolia

recognizes me too.


By my own olfactory

signature, part smoke-sweat,

part lime-milk?


Or a particular wave of heat?

Perhaps, a secret shimmer

that only tree can see?


My mother, a lover

of lemon balm, basil,

sweet annie, rosemary,


her fingers crushed

each leaf for me,

releasing a codex


of complex fragrance

just below my nose.

But not for pleasure alone.


For the knowing, too:

a way to find friends

in hollowed-out spaces.


And now—for her—nothing.

No tang of lemon balm,

no sharp oregano.


No stink of gasoline

to raise a fumey

finger of alarm.


If blind, then Braille.

Fingertips would trans-

late dot to thought,


the hill and valley

of a lover’s face

to heft and shadow.


If deaf, hands could sign,

a manual ballet of meaning,

poetry, literally, in motion.


But who can report

on the air, lilac-thick,

and who translate


this language lost:

smoke, moss, river, pain?

How will we ever know each other




–Jill Kelly Koren  (Jefferson County)

This poem will appear in the author’s The Work of the Body, Dos Madres Press (forthcoming).


Jill Kelly Koren

Jill Kelly Koren lives and works in Madison with her husband and their two children. She teaches writing and poetry at Ivy Tech Community College. “What the Nose Knows” is from her forthcoming book, The Work of the Body.

Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!

Posted In: Poetry

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