She spent the pandemic growing three Victory
gardens. Safe in her social distance, she nurtured
them for her own entertainment, knowing they
may displease others. No, at the very sight, she
pictured eyes averting, noses turning up, skins
shaking. For permitting the growth was an unspoken
transgression—All her life, mother, sisters, and
female friends mopped up of any trace of offensive
fuzz that went beyond the scalp. As if it was all for
hating. ‘Pit’ hair most of all, its name inviting only
grimaces and groans. The name itself a judgment.
At least, that was the inherited voice that barked
whenever she, wickedly, dipped nose into bodily
sward to inhale a zesty whiff.
Still, the woman allowed her curiosity and indolence
lead, and soon shrubbery spilled from her under her
arms, from the heat between her legs, from the trail,
like a bridge between the forests, below the navel.
Furriness arrived like a band of fugitives. It brushed
the air as she walked. Tickled straying hands. The
woman tolerated the new wooliness, mostly happy
not to have to groom. But there was no denying
the headiness of the fragrances that came with the
growth, pure hits of which had only rarely hit her nose
before. Now the aromas came heavy, like lyrics where
only murmurs had been, and it wasn’t all stench. It was
sugar and yeast and sour, often stirring into a thrill.
With arms down the most provocative shadows
were barely visible. When they lifted—say, during an
online yoga class—scents tendrilled like spools of
ivy. Notes carried like run-on sentences. Pheromones
flared like found-out affairs, sweat mixing with them
into a woozy-cocktail. All three triangles steamed
With nose listening, she learned that her skin was
soil fed from without and then from within. Feasting
on apples dipped in almond butter, crisp spinach
dressed in lemon, and bubbly kombucha gave way to
smells-songs she could only describe as foods—fresh
yogurt with spoonfuls of sun-ripened berries, nicely
spiced mead, bread straight from the oven. After
laughing with loved ones, she laid in bed, arms and
legs spread and eyes softly shut, intoxicated by an
aroma that was also an aura of absolute peace.
Meat laden meals produced astringent miasmas,
especially when coupled with garlic and onion. And
the stink of over-aged wine emerged like confession
after a tense conversation, stressful project, or
bout of worrying. Anxiety brought on a moist spoil
enlarged by the strands as if the hairs were speakers
of an inner wariness. She showered off these spills,
lest they continue to offend her or anyone else.
Guzzled water to rinse out the roots, turning the
soil fresh and sweet again.
Five months into the shelter in place, she felt guilty
for her discovery. Haunted by it. She imagined
leveling her gardens so she wouldn’t be caught.
Because people hate seeing women do as men,
especially when it comes to their bodies. Still, she
imagined there were others who knew that honest
odors smile when the body is nurtured and pinch
when it’s neglected. That it’s not just food that
conditions the skin—just as winds and rains bring
and take from the soil, so too moods and particles
gift and steal corporeal grounds into each state.
Hairs, like sentries, project calm when all is at ease,
and sound alarm at surrounding threats. There was
no doubting the awareness of innerness weaved by
thick strands, the kind women beg for their head, and
somehow, nowhere else.
Meeting others was encountering their choice of
stripping, unseeing, and masking through shaving,
landscaping, or perfuming. She wondered, was the
remodeling a kind of escape or leveling of nature? A
way of being rid of the honest stenches that rebuke
what poor bodies have to wrangle, tangle, tame? Or
a forgetting of the good, lest it forces another kind of
reckoning? Preening can become a habit of those who
would avoid awareness at all costs.
And yet, she couldn’t ignore how the two inverted
bushes complemented the grove further below, like
curtains matching an unholy bedroom. Supine on
her sheets, she twirled locks between her fingers,
contemplating the collective flight from body odor.
The fragrant patches spoke of her to her, honestly
and with great mystery. Volumes of lore became
unveiled, but only in her persistent presence. So she,
the smeller, had to lay in waiting without knowing
as if deciphering the wind, or watching for a rare bird,
or surrendering to a smoldering heat. She wouldn’t
be living like this, she imagined telling a wary lover
or scowling sister, if the sensing itself weren’t
But who except her would have the heart to explore
what are mostly presumed depraved valleys? Would
any lover accept hair almost universally deplored
as foul? Who really dares to be guided by their own
good sense? Perhaps, she thought, that is the way
of confident cooks, experienced farmers, renowned
vintners, expert perfumers. All those who must allow
the nose to know.
No, she concluded, her strands were not weeds, or
rot, or just for men. But stalks of flowering fields.
So she lovingly allowed them by the dozens, and
they huddled together as if in close cooperation,
conspiring to solicit attentions. The wind picked up
their pollen, sending messages to noses miles away.
As if Hermes or Cupid were carrying her perfume,
inviting others to taste, then linger. And though no
one could place or keep it, they closed eyes and
imbibed. Transfixed. Nostrils were wide as the sky.
At month six, she began trimming. The intimacy of
knowing had become too acute. So she began to
expect reprisals even before they began. The scolding
following an overindulgence of a cheesy steak sand
wich. The diatribe that accompanied fueling a fear,
say, of democracy’s collapse. Arguments between
self and skin were kindled by her insistence on seeing
a lover that left scent clouded with bitterness. All of
the proximity to truth and the weight of its gravity
sought to unmake her habits. Urge reform. Unwilling
to unbecome all at once, she sought to blunt incoming
messages, without dismissing them completely. The
blunting without dismissing became pruning without
applying deodorants. The strands shortness or
absence turned former operas or wails into delicate
whispers. Toning down the effects permitted her to
tune in without reacting the truth away.
She spent the pandemic growing three Victory
gardens: one beneath left arm, one beneath right
and one between her legs. She flirted, not knowing
how deeply she would fall for their poetry, for the
sweet whispering scales sent from within, the love
notes thanking her for what she did and did without.
She did not know she would choose to fight for them,
then against them. She did not know that she would
seek to soften pungent truths for self-preservation.