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Killed in Childbirth

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?

from Even the Hollow My Body Made Is GoneFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2007
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Published in Janice N. Harrington Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.