Poetry from Gail Tirone: The Scent of Time

At my day job, I’m a historian and archaeologist. As a result, I think a lot about time. I think about how time feels, how we sense its passing, and what marks it leaves behind. I’m not sure, however, if I’ve ever explicitly thought about its scent.

Fortunately, Gail Tirone’s contribution to NDQ 89.3/4 fills that gap in my imagination admirably with her poem “The Scent of Time.” This poet invites us into her richly scented world of old letters, gardenia, wars and scandals.

As always, If you like what you’re reading here, check out more from this issueconsider submitting some fiction which we read all year around or even consider subscribing to NDQ!

The Scent of Time

The scent of time is gardenia
and August afternoon heat
released from an antique shoebox

The scent of time is gardenia
and dusty old letters
inscribed on brittle hundred-year-old paper
written in a language your ancestors could read
postcards from the front
of a war a century ago

The scent of time
is flesh-pink petals falling
and no one to see
is possibility found and lost, lost and found

If you remember their names
will the possibilities pass on?
Will the gardenias continue to bloom
as white sacraments resting on the tongues
of future generations?

Meandering path of a shared family past
redolent with scandals and secrets, poets and gardenia
– the uncle marrying his niece
– illicit profits in black market goods during the war
– bouquets of poems, commendations from the king
– the scent of gardenia on Sundays

Will worshippers of the family cult
speaking in tongues
intoning incantations of marbled memories
of possibility found and lost, lost and found
decipher the signs?


Gail Tirone is originally from New York and now lives in Houston. She’s a Best of the Net nominee and a finalist for the Red Mountain Poetry Prize, 2020. Her poetry has appeared in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hong Kong Review, Mediterranean Poetry, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and elsewhere. See www.gailtirone.com.

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