An Elegy Belated by Decades

Our building at the college smells of chlorine

this morning—apparently something they’ve done to the floors—

and the sharp edge of its scent scraping my nose

triggers memories of my childhood days, those

I spent in the keeping of my father’s aunt, an old-school

Southern homemaker whose economical rules

meant collecting straw to make her own brooms,

and whose housecleaning standards required that every room

be scrubbed ceiling to floor with Pine-Sol or bleach—

no imperfection missed or deemed out of reach.

Chicken for dinner came from the backyard, neck

wrung and feathers singed—organic, low-tech.

When she said she’d have baked a cake had she known you were coming,

she meant it literally, a multi-layered something.

But there’d be crackling bread, some greens, a stew,

and looking up from her quilting, she’d be glad to see you.

She pushed a wheelbarrow to the store for the grocery haul;

she never contracted her greetings to “y’all” from “you all.”

Out in the garden, sunbonnet on, she hoed;

indoors after noon, she watched soap operas and sewed,

while I playacted traveling to Columbus,

where she said the train passing her house had its terminus.

By the time I knew her, she was elderly, by no means thin,

but a youthful beauty lingered in her glowing clear skin.

At five with a cold I balked at her smelly cures,

but she was a remarkable woman; her memory endures.

 

 

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