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House Cleaning


ISSUE:  Winter 1988
The dreamer descends through the basement to see what
 was valuable in her inheritance.

Nor Hall, The Moon and the Virgin

Kneeling in the dust, I recall
the church in Enna, Sicily
where Ceres and Proserpine reigned
until a Pope kicked them out
in the mid-19th century.

This is my Hades, where I find
what the house has eaten.
 ”And Jessica was left with only
 the raw, sheer, endless terror
 of being alone in the world.”
“We are alone, Jessica,” I say aloud;
the whole box of romances must go.

I keep the photograph of the young girl
reading cross-legged
under cotton woods.
Her belly is still flat, not yet a fruit
split open,
the child shining in its membrane like a pomegranate
  seed.

She ended both their lives,
and no mother’s rage
or weeping
could bring her back.
I leave her with the book of fairy tales:
still safe, held fast,
in Sleeping Beauty’s bramble forest.

I could use some sleep.
What I do must be done
each day, in every season,
like a liturgy. I want to pray
to Mary Magdalene, who kept seven demons,
one for each day of the week.
How practical; how womanly.

My barren black cat rubs against my legs.
I think of the barren women
exhorted by the Good Book
to break into song:
we should sing, dear cat,
for the children who will come in our old age.
The cat doesn’t laugh,
but I do. She rolls in dust
as I finish sweeping.

I empty the washer
and gather what I need for the return:
the basket of clothes
and bag of clothes-pins,
a worn spring jacket in need of mending.
Then I head upstairs, singing an old hymn.

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