Luther Hughes’ You Smell Like Outside: A Small Note on Friendship

“You Smell Like Outside” is Luther Hughes’ wonderful column for Frontier where he seeks to answer the question every month: can poetry help us with our real, day-to-day life? For June, Luther has friendship on his mind, and gratitude, and, of course, the poetry that reveals both.


Over the past few months, I have been thinking a lot about friendship, what true friendship looks like, and, while this post, I think, will not do the work of interrogating “friendship,” this is what is currently on my mind. Friendship, real friendship as how I have experienced it over time, is one that is both full of understanding and, like many relationships—platonic and otherwise—accountability. It is our friends who are willing to chat into the long hours of the night when we are at our lowest. It is our friends who kick us in the ass when we make the wrong choices. So, what is this post about?

Last month I visited one of my closest friends in Boston and to say I had fun would simply be an insult. While sitting in their backyard with another of my closest friends, I realized just how much I was empty since last seeing them. And this is not to say being in communion with my other friends has not been as energizing or filling. This is just to say, friendship, companionship really keeps me going whether that be a phone conversation, or a drink at the bar. Friendship is necessary. This is why I turn to the poem, “Sonnet 104” by William Shakespeare, which starts with: “To me, fair friend, you can never be old,” which, yes, can be read as quite literal—the speaker being disillusioned by both the physical and mental qualities of their friend—but it can also be metaphorical; maybe, just maybe the friend is such a good friend they appear agelessness, as if agelessness correlates to the purity of friendship. It is true, somewhat right, that the best friendships are sometimes one that reminds us of being children when friendships were formed just because. And you wanted to be around those friends just because.

Friendships like those, like the ones I admire and adore, remind me of “Cento Between the Beginning and the End” by Cameron Awkward-Rich. And there’s a sort of paradise-like feel in the lines, “all my friends are there / everyone we love / is still gathered / at the lakeside / like constellations.” This, too, is what it somewhat felt like this past week when I watched my friends graduate from Caven Canem Fellow to Cave Canem Graduate. I smiled as they were crowned with flowers and expressed their love for not only each other, and as the song, “Every Nigger is a Star” by Boris Gardiner, I was filled with immense happiness and, of course, sadness because I will not be able to share that particular space with them again.

Okay, so where is the tension in this post, right? There are times my friends only talk to me when they are going through something. There are times when I feel as though my friends do not check in on me. There are times when I am expected to give and reach and communicate in ways that only suits them. I say this not to, well, rant, but to express, truly, why I am thinking of friendships now. But there are moments when I think about my life without them or think about the times that have kept me whole and completely sane. Does this paragraph exude a level of toxicity? I do not think so. It does, however, point out what could be some flaws in, not just mine, but in anyone’s friendship. But to think again on what my life would be without any of them, I turn to “Poem” by Langston Hughes:

I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began—
I loved my friend.

This is a small love letter to all my friends. I love you. I thank you.

Luther Hughes

Luther Hughes is a Seattle native and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founding Editor in Chief of The Shade Journal and Executive Editor for The Offing. A Cave Canem fellow and a columnist for Frontier Poetry, his work has been published or is forthcoming in various journals including, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, TriQuartlery, Four Way Review, and others.  Luther received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.

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