Kids at school laughed, said he stank like squirrel stew
or mouse shit, like an old suitcase, man,
smell of the country he came from
or the sweater his grandmother knitted
in her old kitchen, garlic and wild leek, the rabbit
she caught boiling in a pot on the peat hearth
needles clicking odour into the wool
row after row.
He threw the sweater in a dumpster on the way home from school,
bought a new one, red, white and blue
at the five and dime with paper route money
but the kids still laughed. He thought
something inside his skin must reek through the pores
of his long hands, thin chest,
maybe his grandmother’s life poured
out of his mouth with every breath his heart pumped,
a foreign smell, stink in his blood, her story
living in him, old words knitted beneath new.
New words came to him in pieces
but when he strung them together, he smelled shame
for the place he’d come from, his grandmother’s childhood
on the farm, her hands old at ten, look.
How the soil starved during the war, malchik, she said.
Acorns and thistles.
And how, when she fled, the child she carried on her back
lived almost to the border.
Your uncle, she cried. Before your father was born,
listen, malchik, weeping in her new kitchen
trying to reach him
trying to knit their worlds together.