Vapor Memories

The other day, I smelled diesel exhaust and was instantly reminded of my time in East Africa.  This also happens with fire smoke and sometimes, depending on the season, with rain.  I’ll be physically present in one place and mentally across the globe all because of a smell, an invisible tug on my memory.

With the curling tail of smoke

or the exhaust of a diesel engine

I am removed,

transported to the phantom middle land

where sensory and memory convene.

A middle land where I walk on two streets

the physical street of my reality

and the streets of

Makutano, Kimana, or Mto wa Mbu

of my memories.

Shadowy visages of thorny acacias,

boys and their goats,

school children in matching uniforms,

kanga-wrapped mamas

overlaid on the upright maples,

dogs on leashes,

women pushing strollers,

rumbling flow of traffic.

That vapor, tangible and all at once

impossible to hold

explodes from the nooks in my chest

where the memories have been


nestled and hibernating

until stirred.

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