Miriam Vermilya's poems most recently appeared in Cedar Hill Review, and are forthcoming in Poetry, Baltimore Review, Talking River Review, and Red Rock Review. Her first collection, Heartwood, was chosen by Robert Fink as the 1999 Walt McDonald First-Book winner, and was published posthumously by Texas Tech University Press, Spring of 2000.
Washing the Clothes of the Dead
At the end, there is always a woman
who keeps the faith, who stands
at a tub, bereft, her tears rising to blur
the traffic of churning laundry:
the argyle sock dipping a toe
into the surf, a flailing pajama sleeve
waving an empty good-bye . . .
not unlike our foremothers who,
when one husband or another
was carried home from the fields
or the mine, would gather up
the softest rags and white lye soap
to scour his flesh until the water ran
gray in the basin and the nacreous
skin of his body gleamed . . .
who would, weeping, button across
the chest of even the worst of miscreants
his best linen shirt, scrubbed
with knuckles raw against the wash-
board then boiled in a kettle
to an unsullied brightness, no less
immaculate than the robes
of martyrs or saints.
On Hearing of the Death of a Friend
The very air of the room where you are
sitting or just standing by the window
rarifies, retracts, reminds how everything
falls away—family, friends, whatever
can be known and loved falls away.
Beyond the window, stillness—
the morning world bowed down
in silence, life lines sagging ground-
wise, bush, branch and vine strangled
by the ice born of a late winter storm.
Shuddering, the sycamore bends
beneath its burden, brought to its
knees with a sound like gunshot,
weakened heartwood exposed,
falling away, the way it all falls
away: branch and twig, friend
and brother, even madness, stilled
at last, even sorrow, even love—
even that, in the end, falls away.
When the Second Chance Cloning Clinic Opens
I want to be first in line, shivering on the sidewalk
in my thin investment of acceptable genes
like a star-struck groupie waiting for the Doors
to open on a new-born world of strobing lights.
Imagine holding in your arms the one you love
most, double helix doubled, identical alleles
aligned in perfect synchrony, blueprint for
a transcendental life, the whole thing calling
first for some audacious name—Carmen
or Camille—something to live down or up to.
As to advice: wear red shoes and midnight-
blue mascara; dance the tango with dark,
mysterious men; fall in love less often,
or oftener but not so hard; squander your
inheritance and bet your sweet life on luck.