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American Life in Poetry

Our sense of smell is, as you know, not nearly as good as that of our dogs, but it can still affect us powerfully. A good writer, like Tami Haaland, of Billings, , can show us how a single odor can sweep us back through time.

A Colander of Barley

The smell, once water has rinsed it,

is like a field of ripe grain, or the grain held

in a truck, and if you climb the steel side,

one foot lodged on the hubcap, the other

on the wheel, and pull your body upward,

your hands holding to tarp hooks, and lift toes

onto the rim of the truck box, rest your ribs

against the side, you will see beetles

and grasshoppers among the hulled kernels.

Water stirs and resurrects harvest dust:

sun beating on abundance, the moist heat

of grain collected in steel, hands

plunging and lifting, the grain spilling back.

Poem copyright 2012 by Tami Haaland from “When We Wake in the Night” (World Tech Editions), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by the Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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