Flowers that Stink

I like flowers that stink. But then, growing up, I loved the smell of dry cleaning fluid that seeped through my grandparent’s Everyready Cleaners. Driving to their house, when we passed the linseed plant, I’d roll the window to suck in the sickly sweet air. Unwatched, I’d crawl into the back dash of Mamo’s Dodge to get close to the hot cardboard smell of dust baking in the Mississippi sun.  

Some might not care for the earthy scent of burlap. I did. And the molasses smell of sweet feed the horses chomped on, the clean whiff of the salt licks set out for the lowing cows. The bitter stink weed that grew in the fields taller than our heads—try to rip it in half and you ended up with the stink all over your fingers. Oh, well. Wipe it on your pants. It’s still there. Oh, well.

So when I lean into a geranium, I’m not admiring the bright red flowers, the velvety petals, the strong stems. I’m catching the bitter whiff of the plant. When I pause beside the lantana bush, I’m coveting its sharp scent. When I interrupt my walk to crouch low for the acrid smell of the zinnia, the distinctive odor of the tomato plant, I’m reminding myself: all that is loved is not sweetly perfumed. There is a valued place for those things—like me, like the world I come from—that don’t act rightly beautiful. 

(This essay originally aired on WKNO-Memphis)

Some call the mimosa a weed. I love it.

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