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.