“Who other than you will ask for news of me?”
~ Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
When the cleaning women come again it takes much more
cajoling before you let them into your house, let them
scrub the grime caked over nearly a year on floorboards,
bathroom tile, kitchen cabinets, shelves still groaning
with the weight of every last rusted spoon and knick-knack
you salvaged from your other life— when you were known
as wife of the retired judge everyone remembers, dapper
to your own hand-crafted elegance. Perlita says, gently,
Let us wipe the dust off this picture frame, ma’am,
then you can put it back in your bedroom. Nothing is
going to disappear. How long has it been since you lifted
the faded mustard flannel draped over the Winkelmann
upright piano, since anyone ran fingers over its
yellowed keys? Trembling mallets wrapped in wool
stop just short of the soundboard. Has the refrigerator
light gone out, or has someone disconnected the appliance?
Extravagance, surplus poured around the ordinary
for you was slipping a half stick of butter into a pot
of pasta; or saying that in some countries, men show admiration
for women by slapping their butts. Do you remember the year
you went into the shoe store downtown at least once a month?
Now I’m told you shuffle around in a pair of plastic hospital
slippers from your recent confinement. The last time we speak
on the telephone, you cycle from crying over your empty bank
accounts to railing at me for “making” you sell your house.
How to write about a room with a bare light bulb, a threadbare
sofa, half a moon broken clean in the sky from its shadow?
This elegy for everything we’ve lost, and lost between us.