Cleaning

By Elisabeth Denison

elisabeth denison

I.
Sometimes in the evenings when you look up
from reviewing the walls of the heart
and the papers on valves and veins and phases
are getting lost in my notes on the roots
of our words, we do the dishes
to Nineties music. These are the nights
we have compromised with our inclinations
toward impracticality. These nights we have said:
Fine, we’ll stay in. Have said: Fine, we’ll drink
water. (We’ll play house, we’ll play kids
in a film, and this is the scene
where everyone in the film has a job
repairing the old tree house, where everyone
knows the words to the song
in the background.)
Oh, but other nights
we are so adept at pretending otherwise:
that there are not such hazy weights roosting
in our balances. That we’ve earned it,
alright, this swirling about gin-tossed
as we can stand and this saying
far less about how low the scales
have tipped. That we are not “Twentysomething
and already nostalgic” — that the New
York Times does not theorise in such fantastic
turns of phrase. They’re nostalgic
in Poland, too, I’ve been told.

II.
Deana’s at the sink scrubbing knives
to Destiny’s Child. I am wiping clean the counter
of its crumbs. In methodical flickings-
away (she from the knife blade, I
to the floor), we do not talk
about the news tonight. We do not talk
about our towns (west of here, looking
as though they haven’t seen the news).
We don’t talk of the party last week
at which someone said, It was like walking
in on a crime. It’s done, you’re involved now.
It doesn’t matter that you’re eleven. At which
glasses were topped off in praise of the advent
of this conversation half our lives set aside.
At which point Liz went upstairs and cried.
Tonight we don’t talk, we sing
these flippant old truths: This is the last dance
until tomorrow

–the grease on the hob
is irreverent–

Sunshine is good
like gold

–how many songs have played
and no matter how I scrub
it looks the same–

The world is afire and we
like it.

III.
The stains across our burners are so fixed
I think they must have been here before
we moved in. We consider calling home
to ask what gets up years-old grease (Oh, nothing?
Nothing, then?) Fuck it. Leave the smear. Pretend
otherwise: that the hazes are not so vital. That their heft
has some hint of a tinge.
Because my notes tonight are on old words
not quite ours (an exception: the word for youth
has been the same in English
for six hundred years) and your notes are on all the hearts
there ever were — the bad, the broken, the ideal hearts.
We study the universals of particulars
and we live each day for its details
and we remember everything, we remember
everything, everything, and still daily we are told
it is not enough to remember everything.
So please. For the sake of whatever
you like. Pretend otherwise. Let us choose the game
at recess, the song we all still know.
Downstairs the door opens, our friends
are coming up, hearing the song above, knowing
the song above, singing with us: “I wish I was
a little bit taller…”

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