Cleaning House for Mother and Me – Karen Mandell

The magazines stashed in the straw basket, cornucopia
overflowing, pull me into their energy field
offering happiness, stress relief, chicken recipe cards
weight loss, cleaning shortcuts, medicine news, clutter control.
Like the trench-coated dealer, hat slouched forward,
crooked finger beckoning, psst, lemme show you sumthin,
the papers call me. Fine then: clutter control.
Start with the magazines. Cross-legged I dig in, absorbed,
making my piles, Recycle, Keep, Give to Mother.
I’m ripping out articles to save from Recycle
(Walk off Weight! Get More Energy!) when it hits me:
Mother has shrugged off housekeeping, discarded it like a burst
seed pod. Switching her cleaning rag for a hanky, she walks past
her cabinets unconcerned; a spot of grease, what’s that
to her? Read up on kitchen ideas, she’ll say,
why? Beautiful bathrooms? No. Ticking off
projects on her fingers, there’s canasta, book group,
Chinese exercise, movie night, crocheting blankets
for sick children. Mother lifts her petticoats, and sauté pans,
an iron, a bottle of bleach, scouring powder,
a cake stand, a measuring cup and flatware for eight tumble out.
Store them, she says. Or not. Up to you. I’m through.
She waves her hanky; I grab it, take a look.
We can sew on a ribboned border, says so
right here. For what, Mother says, and shuffles her cards.
I dump her detritus in the garage, damp catacomb,
add the magazines for good measure. They stand like sentinels,
guardians of the journey to the afterlife. Something to read
along the way. The field mice have other plans.
They bite off strips to pad their nests and lie down
on Tips to Try, The Disease Most Doctors, Best Tasting…
until their fur and tongues blur the words past saving.

Karen_MandellKaren Mandell taught writing at the high school and college levels, and literature at senior centers. Her short story “Goddess of Mercy” is forthcoming from Notre Dame Press. She’s written four novels, Clicking, Tumbling Down, Captured, Repairs and Alterations.