A Pouch, a Fish, a Hoax


On the track of an acrid peculiar smell;
(not mice — not in my mother’s cupboards).
Argumentative, acrimonious,
wanting to be found out.

Kitchen cupboards floor to ceiling,
the top shelf unsteady, topheavy, showing rims of china,
patterns in bulbous half-round of blue and gold
glimmering rich against old green linoleum.

The next shelf has herds of books
in red leather binders.
Household Medicinal damp with its words
on sickness and death, sticky with winding sheets,
heavy with pennies to weight the eyes of the dead;
Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia —
pharaohs and diving bells on a musty breath.
But what is that smell?

Third shelf down,
down by the iron.
Friar’s Balsam,
Gentian Violet.
Brown, cloudy bottles with stoppers.
Mercurochrome, a chemical yellow.
Magnoplasm, black and warm — a boil’s best friend.
Vicks VapoRub to lend a chesty hand.
And, here in the corner, pink and jolly,
false and vicious (what a tonic!)
Waterbury’s Compound.

Bottom shelf, on its own, this is the smell,
the memorable odour,
the distorted label, the innocuous bottle.
Here crouches the clear limpid grease of Cod Liver Oil.
‘Take one spoonful’.
Insidious, mouth-clinging.

Faces screwed we race for the lemon tree,
the cool acid green,
spitting and retching (the dog alert);
what the sea disgorges
the earth receives.

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