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The Residue, 1947

by Lesley Wheeler

  • The bath-water, used three times, remembers
  • heat but does not feel it anymore. The tin tub
  • in the kitchen swallows the fourth child whole,
  • the little one who likes to watch the dirt float
  • from the grooves of his knees, the linty pockets
  • between his toes. Bubbles cluster in islands.
  • His mind is wordless but his stomach talks
  • to the apple-raisin pie cooling nearby. September,
  • you are a sad mood. The pie remembers summer,
  • warm and sweet, but does not feel it anymore.
  • His brother and his sisters are splendidly clean,
  • one head wetter than the next. Two play checkers
  • and one reads. Her pink legs are folded on the sofa
  • but they are also striding into a Concord Christmas,
  • strapped into ice skates or old-fashioned boots.
  • His mother says, sit forward now so I don’t burn
  • you, and pours the fizzing kettle water in.
  • It smells of iron. Love swarms around him
  • in clouds, the way the smallest child is always
  • loved for his red cheeks and his sweet filth. He stretches
  • his back in it, dunks his head down, and her fingers
  • briskly dislodge the week from the roots of his hair.
  • All right, she says, out you go, and does not look
  • at his shivering. The tub must be dragged
  • to the garden, a whole month speckling the suds,
  • time washed away as it ought to be,
  • off of their bodies, returned to the ground.

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