Sunday, August 21, 2016


Eisha Sarkar
International Writing Program 2016, The University of Iowa, USA

I smell:
Coconut oil
Talcum powder
Sweet breath.

I smell:
Blood and decay
Gauze and iodine
Fear and panic.

I smell:
A hospital room
Sweat and waste
Hope and death.

I smell:
Lovely red roses
Perfumed women
Lamps and incense.

I smell:
Clarified butter
Wood and grain
Smoke and fire.

I smell:
Washed sheets
New scents

An old presence.

How I created this poem:

On 18th August 2016, I joined Class 5 of the The University of Iowa's International Writing Program after conducting the funeral of my beloved grandmother. I thought it would take my mind off my own grief as I would focus on Walt Whitman's works on the American Civil War. It's a coincidence that professors Christopher Merrill (also the director of IWP) and Ed Folsom (co-director of the Walt Whitman archive) discussed Elegy and Memorial during that class. I watched the video but could not concentrate on the readings as I was drawn into the black hole of depression. I shut off the computer and cried myself to sleep. The next morning, I read Whitman's works about loss, death and grief. It was painful but I had to move on.

I walked into the room where my grandmother spent most of her life. When she was there, it was filled with her scent and the smells of the things she would use daily: coconut oil for hair and body massage, ointments, balms, moisturisers, lavender-scented talcum powder and so on. A month ago, she had to undergo a surgery to remove a clot from an artery in her leg. It was partially successful. A week later, the lower part of the leg became gangrenous. The house was filled with the odour of decaying flesh. She knew we would not be able to bear it for long and so she decided to get her leg amputated. The operation was successful and she came home. She seemed to be recovering but then the stump got infected. The bacteria spread through her body to the lungs and kidneys. She was in a lot of pain through the week but her final moments in the hospital were very peaceful. She was a very religious person and we cremated her.

With this poem, I have attempted to preserve the memories of my grandmother's last week.

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