Wearing Paloma Picasso

We leaned — two strangers — over
a balcony at a party where a tree
below, thick with blossom and bees
gave what you thought was a desirous scent.

What is the name of that tree, you asked
and I who could not smell it
or my own French perfume, newly splashed
about my throat and on my hair

said I didn’t know. Did those
white packed blossoms smell at all?
Were bees good judges? It’s me
I wanted to say to the fool. It’s me.

Elizabeth Smither has published 14 collections of poetry, including the prize-winning A pattern of marching (Auckland University Press, 1989), winner of the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 1990, and The Lark Quartet (Auckland University Press, 1999), winner of the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 2000.

She was the third, and first woman Te Mata Estate poet laureate and Red shoes (Godwit, 2003) was the result of her two year term (2001–2003).

Her most recent publication is A question of gravity; selected poems, edited by John Kinsella (Arc Publications, UK, 2004).

Smither comments: ‘I have always loved wearing Paloma Picasso, the perfume designed by Picasso’s daughter, of the dark hair, short legs and red lipstick. Though it is probably too sophisticated for day wear and definitely too exotic for a library information desk, I splash it on each morning. “Women who wear chypre fragrances take charge of their lives. They resolve problems in a practical, uncomplicated way. They accept responsibility and project self-assurance and strength of will”. This is encouraging though it hardly sounds like me. I was wearing it on a bus in Paris when an American woman said in a loud voice “Someone is wearing too much perfume” and I was wearing it standing next to a man looking at a blossoming tree festooned with bees. I knew the tree had no scent, it was Paloma Picasso he was smelling. For what tree could compete with notes of bergamot, neroli and jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang and coriander, patchouli, vetiver and amber?’

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