Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Courtesy and Horror
after Sharon Olds

To be clean was to be good, and vice versa.

Every baseboard, tile, and mirror spotless,

the deserts of white carpet and linoleum

a proof we weekly scrubbed blank.

Me and my sister laughing through fogs

of ammonia as we scrubbed the kitchen floor,

bandanas hugging our faces like hospital

gowns. Cleanliness meant innocent meant

nothing to hide. Delicate and supplicant

to a higher order, white-touched and still

as the doe when the arrow enters.

When a co-worker scrawled #1 BITCH ♡

on my forearm in Sharpie, I lingered

in the dark back room after our shift

and took steel wool to the skin until

both it and ink were stripped. A good thing,

a clean thing—did the difference matter?

The filthy ate the clean.  

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