Beneath the Waiting to Be Cleaned Kitchen

Poetry Month is full of gifts. Like yesterday, I found out The Rumpus is publishing a poem every day, and it looks like it’s an original poem every day, too. How wonderful is that? Here’s a poem they published a few days ago by a poet I have never read: Daniel Priest. How excellent is that?

I love this poem. I love how it says “the heart’s instead a counter” meaning a kitchen counter, and talks about “a kitchen waiting to be cleaned.” I’ve noticed a good way to approach writing poetry is to write about an every day task, and layer it with meaning. And oh, this poem takes us to sadness, too, the sadness of miscarriage, and wraps it in kitchen talk. Here you go:

Sestina After a Miscarriage

-For WV

After that long loss they stumble home
with an empty locket and box of ashes,
stand crying on each other in the kitchen,
spill half the box into her hands
and out across the unwashed counter
trying to fill the one with the other.

The heart’s no locket–that’s the other,
the brain, which holds memory like a home
holds light. The heart’s instead a counter,
soft slab of worn wood, oak or ash,
where each cut keeps living, known to hands
that know grain from not, that clean the kitchen

unstacking what gathers in the kitchen
and waits. It holds everything other
than itself: the shucked vegetables hands
have torn and not touched again, unhomed
cups still empty, that overflow of ashes
muddied in the water beading the counter.

All the heart knows how to do is count,
putting one and one together while the kitchen
waits to be cleaned, taking a fleck of ash
at a time. It doesn’t have shortcuts, any other
tricks for the unused plates at home
beside the sink but to pass them singly, handed

back into the open cabinet. And hands
know better than the brain how to count
them down to nothing, how a home
is that sum of adding and subtracting, kitchen
empty then full in its own time like another’s
breath. They know how to gather the ashes

already spilled and try them again, ash
settling into the locket grain by grain, hands
better than the heart for this. And something other
settles into the silence in the walls, starts counting
to itself, a small voice going out from the kitchen
into great holes between stars, and at home

another darkness in the grain of the counter:
ashes caught in the small cuts of the hands’
kitchen like shadows carving the corners of home.

-Daniel Priest


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