Original poem reprinted online here: "Earth Science" by J.T. Barbarese
Originally read: June 8, 2013
More information about the Poet: J.T. Barbarese
The poem, written in quatrains, focuses on a single type of image for the majority of the poem -- smell imagery -- but not in the most direct way. Rather, the speaker is trying to define the self through smell in this poem.
In fact the first line is very blunt, "I smell me" but note how the direction of the smell turns with, "coming up behind me," to make the lines a bit surreal. The "behind" me line could refer to the past or a pun. Well..
Moving on, the smell has a bit more definition with the next lines of, "sweet sarcophagal / history." Although a bit generalized there's two different types of smells at play based on the separate adjectives of "sweet" and "sarcophagal" which tempers "history." "Sweet" implies something good an nice, while "sarcophagal" implied dead and relic == combined with "history" -- the smell has more of a sweet distanced relic appeal than bittersweet.
Then there are two different images (visual) at play -- the first dealing with the idea of "The Ark / after the beasts disembarked," which is an allusion to saving and attention...but when I think of the smell of a zoo -- holy crap...literally. Good intentioned relic.
Then there's the image of the maid who, "draws / the shades, shakes the sheets, / blinks back the stink". Here the smell "stinks" -- is odorous enough to have the maid "blink back." So instead of a implied connotation of smell, here is more of a reaction.
And then from the reaction, the definition. This is the smell of the self, "smells of wronged / flesh, wing, meat / but me mostly,". Here the direct description doesn't have a direct smell. I think the usage of the list creates a contrasting set of ideas which eventually doesn't define the speaker. It's as if his smell is beyond the phsyical.
The last lines of the poem, "climbing the steps, / extract of me, / stinking of me" confirms a more self focused smell that is defined on what is not. The end with the generalization of the smell to the action of the self lingers.