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Margaret Kogan


The smell is like nothing else.
Sickeningly sweet and kind of smoky,
like something burning and rotting at the same time,
it filled my father’s hospital room
and stuck to our clothes and nostrils
long after he died.


Some time past half-way on the long downhill ride,
after his kidneys had failed but while his heart was still bravely
chugging toward the end of the line,
sitting at the table in my mother’s kitchen,
my fastidious father said,
“People in uremia have a distinctive odor,”

so that later, when we could no longer stand to be in the same room with him,
we were not surprised, and we took turns, one at a time,
while the other gagged and gasped for breath in the hallway,
and we were ready, when he asked, playfully,
“Do I stink pretty bad?”
to say with a steady voice and careless shrug,
deadpan, looking him straight in the eye,
“I don’t notice anything.”