Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 5: Aunt Josie’s Housekeeping, Inc.

Aunt Josie’s Housekeeping, Inc.

I clean houses.  I vacuum.  I dust all the cheap ceramic knick knacks collected over a lifetime of distractions.  I scrub the tub, the toilet, the edges of the sink, behind the faucets.  I tote a bucket full of top-notch products:  Pledge, PineSol, Comet, 409.  I wield sponges with scratchy edges.  I put away towels, mop hardwood floors with water and vinegar, sometimes on hands and knees if that’s what you like.  I wash dishes encrusted with hard scraps, throw out fast food bags and Big Gulp cups, sweep up the spilled Cheerios.  I find a corn plant growing in the soil between the edge of the linoleum and the baseboard of the kitchen sink.  Illegal.  I don’t pluck it out, leave it green, exuberant, the ribbony leaves spiraling up into the light of day. I clean houses.  $10 an hour, no benefits, no sick leave.  No union.  I pull pornography out from under the playroom sofa, dump moldy plastic containers from the fridge, kneel before the vegetable bins in soapy attention.  I feed the surviving goldfish, give the feral teddy bear hamster water, replace wet stinky cedar shavings from its cage with fresh chips.  I put on rubber gloves to empty the overflowing cat box, scrape clay pellets hardened into a layer like sedimentary rock.  I empty the garbage can in the master bedroom: used condoms and wrappers, torn pantyhose, toenail clippings.  Kleenex.  Pages ripped from a spiral notebook: “Why did I ever sleep with him?  This affair was a terrible mistake.  How could I have hurt so many people?”  I polish the locked case beside the bed, carved of dark wood, smelling of weed and patchouli.  I clean houses.  I sop up secrets.  I smooth out the wrinkles on the surface of lives for people too busy or too important to do it themselves.  I’m a dark woman with a long black braid, walking across the lawn at the end of a long week.  You don’t see me.  You won’t remember me.  Except for this poem, it’s like I was never there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 4 - Mnemonic

Not sure where this one's going, but it has some good images that I'd like to work on when I have more time.


I was born on the San Andreas Fault.  I carry
that promise of violence and destruction down
the center of my body like a zig-zag of lightning.

My father was born there, my mother too,
and all my brothers and sisters.  Sometimes I think
that’s the only thing we still have in common:

born on the edge of a rippling continent
where the sun goes down over warm waters;
born in the shadow of mountains, between

desert and sea.  Some of us got into cars
and drove north on long interstate freeways.
Some of us stayed not twenty miles

from our birthplace, bound by love or hate
or fear, unable to imagine a sunrise
without palm trees – or sun.  Some of us

died, turned to dust inside incinerators
built for human flesh; parked our ashes
in a niche at Inglewood or scattered ourselves

in the green ripples at Tuolumne.  Some
of us no longer speak to one another,
silent as rusty knives; others learn old languages

and make new songs out of loss.  A few
of us have traveled too far, can never
come back.  Others, not far enough.

Some of us travel only in the motes of dust
shining above the fractured chasms of earth. 
And some of us return only in dreams

to sacred places where our feet have not
walked in this lifetime.  Today, I wind
a string of shells around my wrist

four times, a bracelet strung so I can bear
the beauty of my homeland with me
wherever I go.  The sharp edges bite

my skin, rattle soft as pebbles when I write
these words.  Shells hang from my neck:
polished abalone, oceanic ovals of memory.

I was born on the San Andreas Fault.
I carry that rattlesnake in my spine, feel
the plates of a restless continent grind

and shift from tailbone to skull, a tectonic
rosary that keeps coming unstrung, keeps
this woman from ever losing her place.

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