Each house smells of strangers:
cabbage boiling on the stove,
harsh soap at the rim of the sink,
starched sheets that scrape
against the skin in bed,
hard pillows shaped
by someone else’s head,
rotting bananas, sweaty feet and dust.
Each time we come to a new place
I try to hide one shirt
beneath the mattress
just to keep the smell of home.
Sometimes they find it,
squeeze it through the wringer;
hid long enough, the cloth absorbs
the air around it, loses its memories.
My brother smells like sour milk,
unwashed armpits and the school paste
he eats. He cries
when they hit us; I never do.
Each night I hear
his sniffles soak the pillow.
Come morning, I grab the damp case,
hold it to my nose and breathe.
Terry Wolverton, “Foster Care” from Embers. Copyright © 2003 by Terry Wolverton. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.
(Red Hen Press, 2003)
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