[the poetry billboard] - 'Jakarta Musk' by Balli Jaswal
Jakarta Musk

Balli Jaswal

In a Pennsylvania shopping mall,
a scent-vendor guarded his cart from
listless teenagers and children playing
hide-and-seek from their parents. You
Break You Buy!

All incense sticks were identical. Every time
the shopper picked a bottle, another slid
neatly in its place. The vendor sat with the zig-zag of
his lips set. She couldn’t tell if he was laughing at the
sleekness of her hair or the way her accent curled like
a claw around her English words, strange and
made frayed by her chapped lips.

A cool rim against the hollow below her nostril
as she inhaled. The vendor cleared his throat, stool
rocking slightly as he leaned toward the sign. There
was dizziness and she bought it out of duty that she
should always smell Jakarta.

Her vacation was spent re-visiting her home city alone,
with the necks of her lamps twisted to cast crude
shadows against the ceiling pipes. Smoke threads coiled
upwards but all she wanted were the odors of gasoline, goat shit
and the stench of taxi-cab upholstery, shriveled like dead fruit
and soaked with street-vendor sweat.