It’s not a full-on quarantine, but feels like it,

school closings, bars, restaurants, beauty parlors.

I’ve canceled professional commitments and workshops,

paid gigs I was counting on. I am not alone in my regret.

We are still tempted to enter the land of touching.

 

I’ve jammed the cupboards with recommended staples,

scold myself hourly for touching my face,

have washed my hands to the point of crusty

irritation across each knuckle. I know this drill.

 

My Appalachian grandmother having lived

through the Spanish one herself,

had one rule, about which she was obsessive–

wash up, spit-polish, immediately

upon entering the house.

We could talk with our mouths full,

shove and taunt, build booby traps on the porch,

run amok in the pastures, but before

we set foot inside the house, our shoes were off,

our hands and faces scrubbed,

standing on a step stool in the washroom,

the handpump drawing water fresh from the well.

 

There was a bar of lye soap,

a soft wire brush and a full inspection

previous to every meal,

a you-know-better-than-that

whap on the backside for any slackers.

 

She meticulously cleaned

every egg, pork chop, celery stalk,

jars and cans before prying lose their lids,

bleach-scoured counter tops

and porcelain, floors, the bottoms

of our shoes each night.

She always laid a freshly laundered cloth

across the table before dishing up “vittles,”

most of which she had grown and preserved herself.

 

We gossiped about how our granny was a little off,

constantly complained as we stood in line

for that bristled brush, our bellies

grumbling nearly as loud as our mouths.

 

Upon her death, we let go of grandmother’s ways,

barely taking time to rinse our hands,

our tangibles, stuffing ourselves on-the-go,

processed foods served upsized and sugared,

licking our mucky fingers between bites.

 

This afternoon my granddaughter,

all seven years of her, fawn-eyed,

tearful, asked me how–

how her tiny hands, unblemished,

perfectly formed, could do me harm.

Hands that have hardly touched this world.

This child and the slow tail-wagging of her dog,

standing exactly six heel-to-toe paces away,

outside my screen door.

 


 

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