“Our Mother of Pine Sol and Bleach” by Sarah Sousa

Tattered Billboard by Walter Silver, New York Public Library
Time capsule of the broken family,
dollhouse of the newly divorced—
a just-closed-on-condo with wall to wall
carpet, used beta player,
papasan chair like an adult-sized cradle.
In order and cleanliness we achieve control,
so the condo also contains obsessive exercise
regimes, 500-calorie-diets, one powerful
vacuum used daily, throw pillows,
and all things whose scent says clean:
candles, potpourri, deodorizers, Pine Sol, bleach.
Some days you might detect an odor of pressure-
cooked meat and cabbage, or cat box.
But we have more bleach and mom says
let the potpourri boil ‘til the pan burns dry;
scrape the black petals out with a knife.
My father is gone
and I feel unsafe. But my mother
just got back from the gym.
She’s down on her knees cleaning.

Sarah Sousa is the author of the poetry collections See the Wolf (2018): Split the Crow (2015) and Church of Needles (2014) She also edited and transcribed The Diary of Esther Small, 1886 (2014), which won the New England Book Festival Award for Regional Literature.  Her poems have appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Fourteen Hills, the Southern Poetry Review, Verse Daily and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. She has a sonnet forthcoming in the collaborative artist’s book Mother Monument. Her honors include a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship, the Anne Halley Prize, and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship. She is the founding editor of the former alternative mini lit mag Queen of Cups and is a member of the board of directors of Perugia Press.