Patricia Horn O'Brien

For My Grandmother’s Perfume, Norell

October 9, 2018


Because your generation didn't wear perfume

but chose a scent—a signature—every day

you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top

notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud

smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door

who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about

husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,

the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama

extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a

a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance

that knew to walk sideways, hip first:

now, watch a real lady descend the stairs.


Launched in 1968, Norell

was the 1950s tingling with the beginning

of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,

mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.



You wore so much of it, tiny pockets

of your ghost lingered hours after you

were gone, and last month, I stalked

a woman wearing your scent through

the grocery so long I abandoned

my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:

How can manufactured particles carry you

through the air? I always express what I see,

but it was no photo that

stopped and queased me to my knees.


After all these years, you were an invisible

trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans

I was a simple animal craving the deep memory

worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,

the kind of fool I'd like to be,

I would have pressed my face to her small

shoulder, and with the sheer work of

two pink lungs, I would have breathed

enough to


you back

to me.

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