Photo by Brendan O’Donnell from Unsplash
Photo by Brendan O’Donnell from Unsplash

we were to say the least a
motley crew of women
middle-aged recruitments
from the local temp employment
meeting every morning out
behind the plant down in the
parking lot where Joe who
had seen better days waited
in his rusted eighties Ford

he had that lazy I don’t give
a damn demeanor as he shifted
from his cigarette and coffee
front seat stance into the chilly
morning air his open shirt
and leather jacket swagger
tough guy stud act just to let us
know what we’d been missing
what we’d never know

we came in cars on bicycles
each weekday usually at ten
dependent on the wind direction
east or south east Joe said
was the best each here to fill some
economic need we lined up in
our baggy coats and hats if it was
cold beside his battered car

one by one we took our three
fold sniffs unscrewed each
cap breathed in the acrid
contents subtle sub text
differences we were expected
to identify and name then
armed with clipboard map
a daily log sent off to
stand and sniff and wait

the three suspected gases
unpronounceable we soon renamed
labeled from our household expertise
Stale Running Shoe was easiest
Fried Rubber stronger vaguely
reminiscent of some drag race
pop a wheelies on hot afternoons
but hard to tell from Plastic Melt
especially on the north east side

the plant a great white hulk with
three tall stacks that intermittently
belched out the residue of progress
nestled by the lake down wind from
school and subdivision our sniffing
data gathered as a scientific study
labeled neither pro nor con

we walked through fields where
milkweed silk touched goldenrod
past sub divisions gravel roads
locate the spot stand timing for ten
minutes each two minutes sniff
our guide a five point Lichart scale
from least to most olfactory glands
tuned up nose hair antennae on alert

we sniffed in sun in rain for our next
pay felt our collective story grow
one woman ordered off the road at
gun point by old Jameson his house
his life now boarded up with anger
and confusion you git off a here I
own this land got papers from King
George Joe laughed we detoured
came the back way round

one leaf crunch morning sharp with
frost we watched two startled deer
make u turns slender white flags up
bounding from a meadow formerly
their own and cattle mottled noses
snuffling each green blade
food chain innocents devouring grass
while we marked S or was it H
two at three minutes gagging five at ten

day twelve a foray to the Pentecostal
Camp along the tidy rows of shuttered
cottages and trailers resting from
the summer’s daily fervor and conversion
standing sun warm as the scientific minutes
drifted through the leaf dry afternoon
a trinity of entries all absolved and pure

that daily trek back to the parking lot
role switching to our other lives the
camaraderie accumulated stored in
footsteps passing comments rain
wet faces tracking minutes in the wind
that still faint image of us all lined up
across an open field one after one
a silent row of wise old hags like
bloodhounds sniffing in the wind

Photo by Hung Nguyen from Unsplash
Photo by Hung Nguyen from Unsplash

This post originally appeared on Festival of the Arts, edited by Kim Aubrey and Felicity Sidnell Reid.

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