First Time Smudge

It takes eight matches, a burnt thumb, and a quick Google search

to light the sweetgrass braid Mom scored for me from an elder

at work. Always use matches, she said. Spirit likes matches. 


I don’t have the abalone shell or eagle feather —

water and air — so I just hold them in my mind, cup the smoke

to my face, my left chest, down the fronts of my calves

to my feet. I notice too late I forgot to change the Spotify playlist

to something more traditional. Hopefully Spirit likes

Jimmy Eat World. I think about the word smudge


while I coax the smoke into each corner of my bedroom, the way

it might mean a smeared mark, like how the message from him

apologizing for the women in my bed was a smudge


on my inbox today. The way I felt when I read it, a smudging of my cool

front. I want to think of the word smudge as wiping away but

to soil is simpler than to cleanse and I’m afraid all this smoke

can’t smudge his spirit from the air here. I open the window, cough


an acrid cough into the dark. I notice too late: the Google article said

to keep it open from the very beginning.

Bibliographical info

Molly Cross-Blanchard “First Time Smudge” from Exhibitionist Copyright © 2021 by Molly Cross-Blanchard. Source “First Time Smudge” from Exhibitionist (Coach House Books 2021). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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