Dear Mom,

I just realized

I am now the visitor you clean the house for.

It’s an unsettling thought

That makes me want to wind all the clocks back

To the days when I was on your cleaning crew,

Outfitted with wood polish and pine lemon soap.

                For you, the cursory sweep was anathema.

                A guest meant attacking the very memory of grime:

                The murky film spreading behind the toilet,

                Half-congealed bottles of eau de yuck congregating under the sink,

                Funereal pyres of dead bugs beneath the sofa.

                It all had to go.

We couldn’t be too careful with visitors—

One never knew where they might peer.

You reminded us so, yelling up the stairs,

“Is the trash emptied yet?”

A low thud and a dragging of feet meant:

“No, not yet. My god, isn’t the house clean enough?”

                Did you ever wonder to yourself

                How clean the house might be without any kids?

                You know now, Mom,

                And you’re in mourning because

                No one replies if you shout up the stairs

                And the kitchen skillet looks like a barren wilderness

                Without half a dozen eggs in the pan.

Raising children is such a bewildering thing.

Small, curious beings emerge from god knows where.

They absorb two decades of your sleep, love and paychecks,

And, instead of some grand payoff, your parenting chops are measured by

How well they leave you.

A twisted finale if there ever was one.

                It’s not that kids define your identity,

                But they are knit into your rhythms

                Like cross threads in a woven rug,

                And when the rhythms change

                And the rooms echo like they’ve lost presence

                You feel a strange sort of death

                While everyone’s still living.