Per Fumum

By Jamaal May Jamaal May

(through smoke)

My mother became an ornithologist
when the grackle tumbled through barbecue smoke
and fell at her feet. Soon she learned
why singers cage birds; it can take weeks
to memorize a melody — 
the first days lost as they mope
and warble a friendless note,
the same tone every animal memorizes
hours into breathing. It’s a note
a cologne would emit if the bottle was struck
while something mystical was aligned
with something even more mystical
but farther away. My father was an astronomer
for forty minutes in a row
the first time a bus took us so far
from streetlights he could point out constellations
that may or may not have been Draco,
Orion, Aquila, or Crux.
When they faded I resented the sun’s excess,
a combination of fires I couldn’t smell.
The first chemist was a perfumer
whose combinations, brushed
against pulse points, were unlocked
by quickening blood. From stolen perfumes
I concocted my personal toxin.
It was no more deadly than as much water
to any creature the size of a roach. I grew suspicious
of my plate and lighter Bunsen burner,
the tiny vials accumulating in my closet.
I was a chemist for months
before I learned the difference
between poisoned and drowned.
When my bed caught fire
it smelled like a garden.

Source: Poetry (February 2014).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2014
 Jamaal  May

Biography

Jamaal May's first book, Hum (2013), won the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. He is founding editor of the Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook and Video Series.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, Youth, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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