Blackened roses in a loose bunch,
Furred with dust,
Tied with a ribbon devoid of color.
Piles of primeval flowers
bound with string, dried;
herbs hanging in the attic, too filthy to eat.
The mantle, unseeable.
The fireplace that never worked.
The furred candles stuck in jars.
The cuckoo clock, somehow still wound.
Layers of papers, cards, flowers.
Photographs taped to the wall,
Edges decayed, breaking off in flakes.
I sit facing it - the layers of
The debris, the smell.
I won’t sit elsewhere.
Won’t turn my back.
Stuck to this cushion, fixed, tied.
The crashing from the kitchen,
The chair scraping on the floor.
The kettle screams.
Slowly, painfully, she makes her way to my seat,
Tea slops on the floor.
I know better than to look inside the cup.
One photograph on its own, down under the clock.
I don’t know her name;
I’ve been told Esther, Greta, Sylvia, Frieda.
She was a great beauty.
No one told her what to do.
A drop of tea slides down her chin,
quivers, falls on her chest.
A mirror rises from behind the mantle
showing me the room,
Her face with its faded eyes,
My face twisted in a grimace.
The teacup gripped in my hands.
Where is he? He didn’t come?
No, I say.
Her husband, my husband,
Her brother -- dead for twenty years.
No, I say, not this time.
She blows on her tea;
Pours a little down her dress as she drinks.
Jerking forward she tells me about her tomatoes,
Her clashes with squirrels, the daily battle.
Dried mouse blood. That’s what we used. It kept them away.
How did she get it?
Chopped off a tiny head? Hung it upside down, to drain
into a small glass jar?
Oily swirls on the surface of my tea.
She talks about nothing – squirrels, apple orchards,
Potatoes dug at night.
Grown at night, dug at night. Only our family did it.
We charged more. They were yellow as cream.
Something – a hailstone that killed a cow.
A yellow plaid dress.
Lightning that split a tree.
My eyes unfocus, my brain unspools,
Her voice, covered with dust.
I stay as long as I can stand it.
I stay as long as I should.
Greta, now she was the beauty.
No one could touch her. Everyone wanted her.
The tea slides down her chin.
Married three times – twice – but only one child.
She hated to ruin her figure.
Dust on the chair so thick that it’s purple,
So full it looks alive.
Her dress drained of color.
I stay as long as I can.
I stay as long as I must.
We make the circuit – her bedroom, the bath,
The kitchen counter piled high.
The toaster coated with grease,
Coffee percolator with fraying cord,
A snow globe cracked and drained.
Esther was the beauty. She married last of us all.
Yes, I say, she is beautiful.
This is her mother.
This is her daughter – her niece – cousin.
The clock crashes loudly, second to second;
We stare at the wall.
The furred dust on her finger
As she strokes my cheek.
I feel the color leaving my body
Drop by drop, till I’m gray like a corpse.
A desiccated mouse.
Exoskeletons of grasshoppers, enticed inside.
Her eyes tied to mine,
I back slowly through the doorway,
Something thuds, creaks.
Something whines, hums.
Something lands in my hair.
I stay as long as I must.