Mom earned her cleaning jobs through word of mouth.
Her clients liked an English-speaking maid.
Sometimes I helped and on the way she’d rush
through what she knew: who’s a second wife,
an almost third, who won homecoming queen,
who leaves too many Post-it notes,
who’ll put their mother in a home, who marked
her calendar for the double mastectomy
and said, What could be worse than dying young,
handing Mom a garbage bag of clothes,
the tags still on. To keep it fair, we divided
the houses. I always took the bottom floor,
worked room to room, learned how to live
in the task ahead. Often, I would forget she was upstairs
until I heard her footsteps, a song half-sung.
I used to want the grand pianos
and white fences, the mosaic paths leading out
to the view. Now, I want her elbow-deep
in a bucket of rags squared from our old T-shirts;
how she split the supplies, explained everything’s use–
how there is a best and easiest way.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH