I’m sixteen and new, my young hands like white gloves
turning red from the dishwasher’s steam.
I spray piles of mush off the dinner trays and down
the disposal, flecks of brown (maybe meatloaf?), green
(perhaps beans?), and yellow (definitely corn), these drab
flecks misting my clothes and glasses. Prop the trays
in neat rows in the rack, slam the stainless steel
door, push the button, and wash away the evidence.
In the dining room Mabel has picked out the beans
from her chili again, lined them up in a neat row on the windowsill.
Wheel of Fortune spins on TV and Calvin moans guttural.
Orville repeats softly, “Shut up. Shut up. For God’s sake, shut up.”
Someone has crapped her pants, the smell floating,
an olfactory cacophony of shit and meat and death.
An aid in a blue smock enters, smells, and leaves
this room full of gray and white curls, lambs waiting.
Someone is humming oh my darling oh my darling oh my darling,
a sound like mothballs rattling in the throat.
Outside the naked sun leans lazily against the windows;
someone’s grandchildren run to a hot car. Their arms
grab at the air, feel it against their skin, the car rolling away
as they retreat, retreat. Hazel hoards napkins in her purse.
“Have you seen my husband? Have you seen John?” She
is in the kitchen doorway again, her eyes wide. I say
what I’ve been told. Yes, I just saw him go down
that hallway. Her eyes follow my arm, my pointing finger, my lie.
All day her wheelchair searches down the dead
end corridors. Calvin moans and someone sits in shit
and the beans wither on the sill under the hot sun and there’s
so much steam it’s hard to see what’s real and I think
no, no, no. I’m no general and I’m not
even an adult and I can’t, so I fish the teeth out
of the garbage disposal again, rinse them off. They’re only
plastic and metal or whatever but they look so real
in my hands, the tired gray gums like clams around
white pearls. The head cook takes the teeth and says
Betty’s. I wish I could run myself through the dishwasher
whip this whole body into red but out the back door
I retreat, retreat. Turn up the radio loud, rock and roll baby
to fade out those lyrics, you were lost and gone forever.
Paige Riehl‘s poetry has been published in Meridian, South Dakota Review, Nimrod, and more. She won the 2012-2013 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry and the 2011 Literal Latte Prize for Poetry. She was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. For more information, visit paigeriehl.com.