This poem is featured as part of the illustration for this week’s cover story in print.

For Ruth

Wesleyan College, 11/6/04

This fragrance I’ve never been able to name,

floating past on the skin of an eighteen year old,

still invites me to stand on the loggia again,

afternoon ticking down into dark,

asking What am I doing here?

lost among strangers with hair more

bouffant than mine, clothing more stylish.

Soon I’d learn the words for what I couldn’t find

in my closet: Bass weejuns, madras, and Villager.

As for the name of that scent mingling

now with aroma of barbecue served on the porch,

it would have to be French, I imagined,

Ma Griffe, L’air du Temps, Insouciance,

not my mother’s stale Emeraude clinging to me

from our goodbye embraces. Now dusk would be

shrouding my father’s farm, doves mourning

out in the empty fields. I knew my way back

to all that. Don’t think for a moment I didn’t

wish I had the courage to set out for home.

But just then the sun set. The lamps bloomed

like story book tulips. The campus unfolded

around me its labyrinth that like a medieval pilgrim

I’d walk until I reached the center where I’d find

no Rose Window as I saw later at Chartres

sifting light down upon us, but tall classroom windows

that shook when the Rivoli train passed. I still walk

those pathways at night, dreaming arias spiraling

forth from the practice rooms, each dorm a beehive

of desk lamps and phones ringing endlessly.

Time, say some physicists, does not exist.

Sheer Illusion. Each moment a still frame,

as though in a movie reel unspooling out to the edge

of the universe. Each now forever.

So let my first afternoon darken to first night.

Inside a small room overlooking a golf course

and woodland, a small bed waits,

heaped with my unpacked belongings.

I slowly walk toward it, my nostrils still seeking

a fragrance I now name Siempre because

the next day I sit down to learn Spanish,

not French. In my best cursive

I write my name on each blank sheet I’m given.

The ginkgo trees flutter their luminous handkerchiefs:

Buenos Dias, Bonjour, Wilkommen.

Again and again I come back

to the start of this journey. I stand looking down

at the fountain, as if to say Here I am.

There you are, water sings to our gathering voices.

The loggia is filling with girls wanting supper,

and now she whose fragrance awakened my senses

so many years back brushes by and the wake

of her passage still trembles around me.