Grime: foul matter that mars the purity or cleanliness of something;
crud, filth, gunk, muck, smut,
scrum, sewage, swill, slime, sludge,
dross, dust, grot,
colly, crock, soot,
dinginess, dirtiness, filthiness, foulness,
befoul, begrime, besmirch,
confuse, disarray, draggle,
contaminate, defile, pollute, taint...
It's not dirt. I don't mind dirt. Although it's dirt too:
plant dirt on the baseboards, refuse in the heater vents,
paint on the floors, spilled and agglomerated
I-don't-know-whats everywhere, banana peel stickers
stuck in windows, apple cores embedded in bed sheets,
tape on tacks on bus schedules on posters on walls.
(I had to peel a notebook from a notebook loosening a splotch of
some not-meant-to-be-adhesive adhesive, two notebooks
I gave you two short months ago, never opened, but already
defaced, disheveled, undignified, sullied, to begin this poem.)
It's the untidiness of things no calm mind might have brought havoc to:
antiques in ashes, jackknives gaumed closed, empty paint cans,
Matchbox cars with broken chassis, half-syruped Cokes, dead cell
phones, bent albums, rusted hand saws, slack-stringed guitars.
Your new room, ground floor apartment
of a century-old Arts & Crafts house,
is a milky white duvet cover
and eight painted white window mullions,
vignettes staged here and there: a purposefully
unfinished portrait of you sketched by your girlfriend,
stacked collector's tins, a vintage cobalt blue bottle
(empty, marked Poison),
an old book with a leather skin, a succulent,
and dahlias (is it?) in a vase on your dresser
bobbing their cheery, coloured heads.
Grime, near antonyms:
decontaminate, purge, purify,
straighten up, mother.
My fingernails are filled with grime.
I feel the weight of it, the chaotic volume.
I don't know how many glugs of water from this pitcher
I'll need to pour, how many rolls of paper towel to reach
the wood on the desk you've left behind.
As the story goes, my mother (Grandma) can't stand
the taste of milk. It's not the milk itself
but milk as signifier. It's wrecked by association.
She says, "I can't look at a glass of the beautiful stuff
without smelling cow shit." And so her bones —
I don't know — what, grow brittle?
I don't know how this vignette fits in, but here you go,
a muntin; go figure.
Somehow I couldn't do this for you, my familiar,
your space, your room, so alien to me now,
so unfamiliar. I feel like an astronaut
rooting amongst moon rubble:
rogue socks, dismantled artworks
(clippings of Francesca Woodman and Francis
Bacon), dead wasps, empty Doritos bags.
I tried last fall when you were gone, admitted, in crisis.
But when you came home, you shut the door
and through mental magnetism,
your bedroom your bedlam.
You just wouldn't take mine.
Perhaps I didn't try hard enough.
Why today, I wonder. I don't truly know.
This morning there was a pitcher of gladiolas
from a Mennonite farm in our kitchen, nine stems,
one pink, one purple, four orange, three red.
A strong urge to know
each magnificent unraveling spire in pure light
came into me, an engorgement.
I carried them up here.
I hadn't realized the physical dissonance of your mess
could dwarf the rightness of light through this,
our house's best window.
As I wrench things to garbage bags,
wipe down walls and windows and lamps and
even the candle stick I work into an also-wiped-down
wine bottle, Tranströmer's words travel through my mind,
the tail-end of a sparkling bright comet,
"Vi tjuvmjölkade kosmos och överlevde"
("We secretly milked the cosmos and survived"),
Swedish lessons that I left off
with your fall.
Erin Wilson's poems have appeared in, or are forthcoming in, Salamander, The American Journal of Poetry, Crab Creek Review, takahē, Pembroke Magazine, On the Seawall, The Honest Ulsterman, and elsewhere. Her first collection is At Home with Disquiet, published by Circling Rivers Press. She lives and writes in a small town in northern Ontario, Canada.