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Monday's poem

This one sinks me every time I read it, and I read it often. It's by RACHEL ELIZA GRIFFITHS,

from her collection Seeing The Body.


Pavarotti trembled across the terse

sunlight of every room. Opera music plashed

shining hardwood floors. A plastic bucket of

hot water & bleach steaming in peace, the ugly rag

clenched in my mother's fist like a rose.

She would never stop cleaning our corners, our


the windows, the doorknobs. On her knees search-


for the one speck of filth another woman might


Lemon Pledge baptized polished banisters.

Roasted chicken or homemade spaghetti

with garlic bread. Sloppy Joes. Who remembers


delicious mess? Those years we children grew de-


in our mother's love. A feast of discipline & delight.

Inside silent moments, she smiled like a shy girl

& urged us to turn up The Supremes or Smokey


She used to go to Howard Theatre in Washington,

where she was born, and see Stevie Wonder, Otis


We always wanted to please her. We lip-synced,


The Miracles & The Temptations. Spinning in a


of sugar & sweetness, we danced whenever we


I remembered Smokey & Luciano Pavarotti

going back & forth through the proud, warbled

chambers of my childhood. My mother pushed me

into an asylum of books. Hid her own daring

escape inside stacks of etiquette manuals.

A young black mother scrubbing love songs

across the drama of ordinary life.

Her eyes sparkled from soap, longing, lack,

& tears she never shared. She fed us her ghost

stories while fading inside her body, her beliefs.

We chewed hope, fear, rage. Her soul

music cleaned us raw & good. All those days

scraped with a sad future that was gaining

on us like a voice.

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