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Published: Tue Jul 1 2008
Wosene Worke Kosrof, The Inventor V (detail), 2022, acrylic on linen. Courtesy of Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California

Call it a plant, but it doesn’t
bloom. May boom. May bust.
It certainly billows.
Surrounds us on days of
thermal inversion, broad
as breath; whatever it is
they make over there

lowers the reek we raise
a stink about. Noisome,
recall, has nothing to do
with noise. Some words
are planted altogether
too close to others.
For instance, olfactory,

which should bring noses
and bouquets to mind,
but instead
conjures smokestacks,
massive machines, bosses, losses,
layoffs, picket lines, barred windows,
and complaints about the water.

Olfactory, olfactory, some odors
don’t wash off.
The dust of industry,
the prod of production.
It’s mistaken identity,
and facts may prove it,
the relations be poor,

but to most ears, Mac,
etymology has bugs.
Perhaps it’s our strained
relationship to fact: hard
not to spot in all its forms,
facility and faction,
facsimile and manufacture

office also—modeled
on a Latin “make.”
Still we mustn’t forget
in truth’s pursuit
that facts should be more
than found or checked;
they must be produced

(they don’t grow on trees),
they must be (as they once were)
made. I mean a clean-burning
assembly line of fact!
A lemon designed
in the Middle East,
squeeze-tested in France,

now pieced together
by unions in Newark.
What could make such
a passage intact?
Who’s weighing freight?
Handling returns? Trucks
once were wheels; unchecked,

they become the carts.
The thumb is drawn to scale,
the trick becomes the trade
in fact, in language:
all branches, no corporate.
In truth, tongues wag,
there is no truth, only

cognates. And with cognac
higher-ups are toasting that,
lower-downs with whiskey—
Dewar’s for the makers!
Maker’s for the doers!—
as some poor slob caffeines
awake at the switch.

Which is it after all—
the manufacturer’s glitch
or the faculty of memory—
which one do we call
a recall? Let’s get down
to brass tacks, like management
suggests, back to basics,

down to business. But no, we
strike for truth, we makers
of the world, while a fact
may be called a fact, a spade
a spade. And we hope, if some
maker is for meeting, the facts
are recalled. Mistakes were made.

Kevin McFadden is the author of Hardscrabble, an inaugural selection of the VQR Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2008). Winner of the Fellowship of Southern Writers George Garrett Award and the Erskine J. Poetry Prize, he has had poems appear in Poetry, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Fence and The Antioch Review. McFadden is currently the Chief Operating Officer of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. (updated 10/2009)

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