Every appliance wears a little garment
in my friend’s kitchen. J sews them herself,
snug quilted dresses for the coffee maker
and the electric can-opener. Why?
It could be modesty, a qualm about displaying
all those orifices and functional bits.
But my guess is she wants them to feel warm
and safe, all alone in the night kitchen
with only the muttering fridge for company.
When she was nine they took her to Saint Paul
to put her in the iron lung. The polio kids
were all in a big room with their gaping machines
like cattle in their stalls, and like cattle,
they were left by themselves at night.
When the nurse turned out the light and shut the door,
the smaller kids began to cry, and J,
as trapped as they were, wondered what to do.
I would have been thinking, Somebody get me out of here,
or, Who will shut them up so I can sleep?
But she began to sing–a hymn,
something Lutheran that she knew they’d know
(this was Minnesota, this was 1952),
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” or “What
a Friend We Have in Jesus.” One by one,
other children joined her.
I picture them now, singing themselves to sleep
night after night in the polio barn, week after week,
spinning around Earth’s axis, around the sun,
around the great black hole of the galactic core,
in a nearly-endless nested spiral tangle;
it’s all so intricate, so completely fucked.
In my kitchen late at night,
the toaster and the rice cooker
face the darkness naked.