Home > Imitation > I Smell Buffalo in Cambodia

I Smell Buffalo in Cambodia

April 24, 2012

by Adam Aitken

after Tomaz Salamun: “I Smell Horses in Poland”

I smell buffalo in Cambodia, ruins in Angkor.
I had come from a rich disinfected nation
to one overflowing with frozen steaks
and a disarming happiness.
No difference here between a frog and its dreams.
The delicacy of their verbs offsets
the barbarity of their past actions.
Neighbours covet the smoked, dried, and the barbequed.
I smell drains, cats, and charcoal in the slums.
Monks disappear into the night; by the time
the tracker elephant finds them they aren’t chanting.
Will I ever see the frescoes in Wat Bo again?

I smell American aftershave
stalking the tunnels of Danang.
Pourissement in the Orient.
I smell flattery and artifice
among the smiling machines of Pub Street.
When you drive on the right, it smells odd.
I perch my glass of mint and lime
on a humidor for Cuban cigars.
I smell a gingko spa for Wall Street divorcees.
I smell coffee harvested from civet shit
priced in Dong, a notorious
perfumed currency.

When they boil the silkworms, I smell it.
Mould in the post office is worse
than mildew in the police kiosk
but nicer than French butter going off in the palace fridge.
Mothballs roll about the bottom drawer.
When you jet in from Mumbai
in your cowboy boots
you notice the lack of crows.
Why? The smell, the jasmine, the priests.
Smell it, bottle it. Call it Shalimar, then sell it.
Here there are vultures kept alive on UN grants.
I stick my beak in a Citroen and inhale the leather.
I smell a delinquent reading,
the aromatics of customer satisfaction.
It is spring again, spring and all.
I take my own sweet time to smell it.


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Adam Aitken is the author of seven collections of poetry and has been published in Poetry (Chicago), Drunken Boat, Jacket, and previously in qarrtsiluni. He currently resides in Paris thanks to an Australia Council Literature Fund residency.

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  1. Lou
    April 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I haven’t read the Salamun yet, but your ‘imitation’ is compelling. Great work.

  2. May 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Redolent, as good as the apocryphal madeleine.

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