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.