Patry Francis

Just before Christmas, 1968

When she hears her son
has died in war,
she goes to the kitchen,
fills the sink with
water and suds and

begins slowly
to wash the dishes.
Plate after plate, she

pulls them from the water,
washes them,
then lets them go.
She wishes she could remember

everything she’s scrubbed
in the last twenty years–
baby bottles cleaned with
stiff brushes, spoons

and bowls and cast iron pots.
It’s like breathing now–
Inhale–wash. Exhale–rinse.
Only this grief is new

and not knowing
what to do with it,
she drops it
into the warm grey water.

But she already knows:
This is one well of dishes
that will never be emptied.
Wherever she goes

she will remember
all that she tried to wash away,
all that stained her–

the milk line in the glass,
the half-eaten vegetables,
the blood, the blood.

patry francis