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Monday, December 21, 2020


by Mary K O'Melveny 

Painting by Chris Austin via My Modern Met.

Our house always looks neat enough.
If you don’t stare into cupboards
or study drawers too closely. Our stuff
seems mostly under control, buffered
by simple messages, pristine lines.
Desires to peer to closely are aborted
by earnest visions, surfaces that shine.
Every now and then, something untidy
slips into view despite best plans,
forcing us to mop, sweep what might be
dust mites or cobwebs from doorjambs,
haul away plastic bags of trash
filled with threadbare linens, brown-edged
papers, dead tennis balls, a rash
of too small jackets, too high heels wedged
in closet corners. The birds benefit
from stale biscuits and limp popcorn.
A container of frozen food—whatever it
was now unknown—will not be mourned,
along with moldy bread and avocados.
We haul debris out to the bins.
A period of satisfaction follows
but prophylaxis never begins.
Eventually, our grimy shadows emerge,
widen once more. They lurk under chairs,
deep in cabinets, still a scourge
like monsters hidden beneath the stairs
to the basement.  A pandemic excused
us briefly from deep cleaning fits
as time marched forward and dust renewed,
but our shambolic state persists.
Now we are facing winter storms,
still surrounded by unexamined chaos.
Until we undertake sweeping reforms,
mops and brooms will be superfluous.
We need to unearth all our buried
secrets, those sordid truths we never found
time to tell, the hopes repeatedly miscarried.
Lay them bare on our snow-layered ground.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press. Mary’s poetry collection Merging Star Hypotheses was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2020.