Washing up by Archer Lundy

Washing up

My husband tells me
I don’t have to do them,
especially as the mess in the kitchen
is his anyway and he’s happy to take
over this morning. But I need to do
the breakfast dishes, need to fill the sink
with suds, unruly, extravagant. When I have
the house to myself, when I can put on music,
chamber perhaps, what best suits the weather,
inside and out. Clear the counter, clear my head

and wash my grandmother’s bone china plate,
the same plate on which she served bread
and biscuits and cake, her tiny kitchen a Paris
bakery on Portage Avenue, all yeasty-warm.
She’s been dead all my adult life, my love for her
like a dream of home, pure and constant, not messy
like mother-love. What I bear for the mother I know
and the mother who bore me. I have invented stories
and lies to cover them both.

What do I fill my daughter’s heart with?

Almost tidier to mother a son.

My mother had a friend
who called it
warshing, the r
rough like scour.

Do I wash
with as much
as I wash dishes?
More a lick
and a promise
these days. But
so like my mother
as I smooth
Oil of Olay
over my cheeks,
chin, forehead—
fingers circling

When my daughter sliced
her thumb, she
let me do her dishes
until her wound healed.
Such a gift,

I wasn’t always so
sanguine about dishes:
two decades ago
armed with The Second Shift
for a 50/50 split of domestic duties.
And a room of my own.
You can imagine
how well that played out
or how it goes, for that matter,
even in the best of relationships.

After the family gathering I spotted the tiniest
of cracks in my grandmother’s plate.
My husband fixed it with crazy glue.

When it hardened, I wiped it clean.

Sometimes atonement
feels like grace.

Now there’s room
on the counter
for my notebook,
and my husband and I
vie for kitchen time.

My son
is the cook
in his marriage—

I suspect
my daughter-in-law
does the washing up.

by Archer Lundy

Editor’s Note: Each section of this poem highlights a brief moment with an image of everyday life, but as the poem walks through its lines, the relationships of a family begin to emerge.

4 thoughts on “Washing up by Archer Lundy

  1. Hi Sarah, I could not find your comment about Monday’s poem – maybe your comment did not get listed (?).I also thought the use of the word sanguine was clever since bleeding is exsanguination – her daughter’s cut. The poet talks about some forgiveness for something- was her mother and she estranged. ?  Peace, rickSent from my Galaxy


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