Chelsea Rathburn

Introduction to Desire


For years it was the smell of luck—my own,
not my rained-on neighbors’: that boiling sludge
men pulled from barrels and spread on ailing roofs.
From blocks away I was lured by scent or the glimpse
from my mother’s car window of drums of tar.

The air alive and thrumming, like a bush
in flower throbbing with bees, the heat rose
like a cartoon pie’s visible vapors.
And like a cartoon character, I drifted
from the house, pedaling up and down the street

as slowly as I could without falling
because I loved the smell, almost-death,
almost-perfume, dark and vertiginous.
I knew enough to feel slightly ashamed.
What did the roofers think? In high school

I was reformed by the hurricane: a year
of roofing crews on every street at once,
the smell following me, clinging to my clothes
till I was sick, a betrayal I taste
each time I turn down a freshly paved road.

Chelsea Rathburn is the author of A Raft of Grief and The Shifting Line. A native of Miami, she now teaches at Young Harris College in North Georgia.