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  • Sarah Van Arsdale

April 20, 2022

Death Cleaning

I always wished I were tidy as my sister,

taking her books straight up the stairs to her room,

never dropping her coat wherever she unzipped it.

Even her handwriting was, still is,

a series of gleeful loops,

easy, fluid,

though I know this isn’t the whole truth of her.

I leave things where they fall:

the coffee-stained cup by the bed,

the blue rebozo on the doorknob,

earrings on the bathroom sink,

as if believing in some fictional “later,”

when time will fan open before me,

I’ll have nothing to rush to,

and with great care,

I’ll tuck my things into their places.

And now, the time has come.

At sixty-five, anything, we know, is possible.

So I pitch the old lipsticks

the extra dry-ice packs

from a dental visit five years ago

which I’d rather forget.

The novels in which I couldn’t get past page thirty-five

(Moby Dick, I’m talking about you),

the darling cup-warmer a student knit,

the cheap vase.

Bottles of narcotic pain killers

from my pain killing days.

How many years in my fifties

were sacrificed to pain?

The broken necklace,

the once-favorite white linen shirt

I thought I looked elegant in, back when we had parties.

The black dress I wore

for one week straight

when my mother died.

I’m planning to still be here

for a long time,

but I want the coming years





leaving billowing empty space

to let in the light and love.

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