Chanel #5

— Judith Oppenheimer

My uncle, Robert handed me a
small package wrapped in flowery paper
I opened it to find a large bottle of Chanel # 5

I ran my fingers down the bottle’s
smooth graceful surface
The transparent liquid caught
the light like an amber sunset
What a strange gift for an eleven year old ranch girl.
Where would I use it?

I dabbed droplets on my cheeks, my neck
walked to the barn where
its sweet, fresh scent mingled with
the loamy aroma of
hay, cattle and
the manure carpet of the barn.

I kept that bottle of tawny liquid
used it occasionally when I went
to a play, a concert.
At forty­something
I threw away the almost full bottle.
I forgot its fragrance, its allure
but the mystery still remained.

Was this gift for an early Bas Mitzvah
a celebration of my young womanhood?

Did this man who led the Manhattan Project
who seemed so aloof
who often could only touch his own children
while leaning over a couch or a chair as a barrier
see what my parents couldn’t see?

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