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Potpourri and What Home Is, After

Allison Peters



My middle brother tells
me, I don’t want to live here anymore. I figure
he hates the family, but he says he just can’t

stand the smell. It reeks like people’s insides, he says,
and burnt tobacco, too,

and now that he’s got me smelling purposely
for it, I agree that it does. Some days

he tries to escape: makes two pitchers of Kool-Aid and leaves
them out with the ice on the counter, or chops garlic,
or wears a mask at home. He says, I wouldn’t call

it a home. Years go by, and
I’ve been opening windows all this time, taking
air out, letting other air in. He says it’s like a ghost

how it won’t leave, that it’s already made
a fence around us, that he’s starting to smell
it in the walls. I spray my best perfume
inside the refrigerator, under the couch cushions, in used

bathwater, beside linen and coat closets. I plug in air
fresheners. I squeeze lemon halves in paths of ceiling fans.
He says, Nothing helps, that

people will judge the smell of his gym clothes, that girls
won’t touch him. I tell him, Well, I’m trying, but it’s hard to cover

up all that, that
it’s been a long time. I start leaving doors open
for circulation while he’s online shopping for new cities.

One day I catch him with a backpack on,
and he’s hysterical: I must leave now, I must go, I must go!

He means it, and he could go. But I’m older
and frowning. I tell him, Stay a little longer, and he cries

as he steps back inside, and I hold his hand and say,
Breathe it in hard, brother. He does and coughs and is a child again.
This smell, I say, This is what I came back for.









Allison Leigh Peters won an Academy of American Poets Prize in 2010. Her work has appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review, Burner Magazine, Up the Staircase, Connotation Press, WomenArts Quarterly, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Third Wednesday, Avatar Review, and elsewhere. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the literary arts magazine Orange Quarterly ( and is Founder and Executive Director of its parent, Elemeno Press. She has been awarded a Grinnell National Emerging Artist Residency, and she teaches new media writing at Northwestern Michigan College.








A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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