Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1

     A vessel always retains the smell of the first liquid that it contained.
          —Wayne Franits, on 17th century childrearing

Heavy on her knees she’s swept the hearth with hog bristles,
the hardwood with broomcorn, the delft tiles with flax and horsehair.
The kettles she’s burnished, the vats for mutton and pork,
but it is the water vessel she loves best, its lovely dented copper
fitted to her flat palm and the way water pours pure as a spill
of fine-threshed whey. It contains only the coppery scent of spring water
risen from agate, spilling, in memory, over her daughter’s newborn form:
that first animal cry untied the ribbon in her breasts, milk running
through her shirt, her own heart thrumming over, the bile flushed
from all her pores until, two inches from her scalp,
the hair under the scarf was soaked with it. Oh, to flush the bile
from the whole world’s body, and to fill it instead with sanguine
pats of butter she prepares for her daughter’s rye bread!
This love drives her to scour and draft and parch. She is always
on her knees before this girl; she’d throw her hair in the dirt in adoration.
If only the world would do likewise, but crimson casts the windowpanes,
catches in her husband’s shirts outside on the line, moves in the bed linens.
It sharpens the knitting needles at her breasts, and she knows too well
to believe her daughter safe beyond the microcosm she daily scours, the swept
cave of her heart, where only candlelight ticks her daughter’s fine skin.  end