Dust, stillness, the stench of raw earth,
each year, this same solemnity—
lifting the trapdoor to take the rungs
down and down into a room of sand
in search of a box that held nothing.
Nothing? A cardboard box tied by twine,
storage for two skirts, a cotton blouse,
a tea-colored slip, a lady’s handkerchief
stitched with purple floss by hands
she had never touched, though she knew
the pockets their fingers had reached into,
and the hems they had raised and pushed aside.
Heirlooms washed and folded over a garden fence,
left for the sun to dry and the heat
to billow full again, as clothes will always
seek dimension. See—she was a short woman
and wide-hipped. She sewed. On Sundays
she wore a blue cotton blouse with velvet panels.
Her hems swished and smelled of red sand.
Nothing more. And the one who raised
the trapdoor and lifted the box asks, asks,
and asks, but they know nothing more.
Slip, skirts, blouse, hanky, she brings
them in, smooths the folds into fresh creases,
mummies each piece into sheet or pillow sham,
and restores them in a cardboard box
to sand, to darkness and cool unmoving air.
Will anyone save the cloth-skin
that once held your shape?
Will anyone wash away its darkness?
Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2007
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.