I’m eating raw garlic again, whole bulbs of cloves that with a knife, pressed fully and with conscience, enough thought for the outer skin to flip out a corner, I can pick, peel back, expose the slivered white claws. It’s enough, this flavor of hot memory, of summers out back, of walking the trail from the house to the desperate garden, of following enchantment. Eat whole cloves to keep mosquitoes away—they don’t like the scent. Eat it raw to ward off the ticks—it throws off their radar for the flow in your veins.
When you’re eight and taught two spears of heat will keep away what wants your blood, that tends to stay in your thoughts. Old wives’ tale or true woods medicine, its power saturates through once you hear the words.
I return to it every year, every hot day, when I ache to go back to those woods, the hemlock trail that seemed so long, the one that led me from the ramshackle cabin, the one I took with my sisters to watch our mother while she planted tomatoes and sweet corn the deer would eat anyway despite the paper plates coated with dog hair and tacked to the posts. Another deterrent, folktale or real—what did it matter? We all loved the process: brushing the dogs and tacking their fur to paper plates on posts. We all loved the magic too, the imagined power: each one of us a mini sorcerer wizarding spells, warding off the creatures who wanted us most.
We secretly hoped they’d come—those demons of ticks, phantoms of mosquitoes, deer of daring—and that we’d get to witness their surprise at our more awesome powers. As part of the spell, we’d script: four legs befriend, wings and needles take flight, eight legs end. It made no sense and all the sense. The ticks, the mosquitoes, the deer, even the rabbits.
Decades later the spell becomes prescription each summer I refill: take two cloves to repel what pest might ail you; peel back and swallow a bulb to transport to the ache of a garden, the memory you lived the most.
Michelle Menting’s creative nonfiction has appeared in New South, Bellingham Review, Ocean State Review, Thread, Superstition Review, and Quarter After Eight, among other places. Her poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, and her most recent poetry collection is Leaves Surface Like Skin (Terrapin Books). She lives in Maine and teaches at the University of Southern Maine.