Why Amnesiacs Might Make the Best Winemakers

By Joseph Mills

As he passes around vials from a tray,
the winemaker asks us to close our eyes
and identify the scents. I recognize some—
leather and lilac, pepper and cat pee—
others seem familiar, but I can’t quite name them,
then there’s lemon and my mother’s thin hands
drying and putting away dishes after dinner,
the cigarette smoke caught in my father’s wool coat,
the mold of Mary McDonald’s basement where
she taught me kissing was whistling without blowing.

Years ago I lived in a building that always smelled
of fried onions and fresh paint, and one Sunday
the woman next door had a heart attack.
As the EMS guys wheeled her to the elevator
I heard one complain about missing the game.

Now, as I sniff each vial, I wonder if winemakers
have to harden themselves like ambulance drivers,
surgeons, and strippers, or if before starting
each workday, they take off their memories
as if they are personal clothes to be hung
in some locker room. They must do something
so the smell of lemon evokes only lemon
because otherwise how could they avoid
being overwhelmed by having so much
of their lives pouring out right under their noses.

This poem was originally published in Angels,Thieves, and Winemakers (Press 53, 2008, Page 1).

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