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Erin Wilson



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

last fall

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.

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