Trash [Good you are trashing …]

Good you are trashing, my husband says, when I send him a photo
of a plastic fork and an N95 I found on the ground beside
the closed down library. And I know he wonders why I disappear
for hours, walking the streets of nearby towns. Walking
is the only way to be reliably alone, though how I miss bodies,
shoulder to shoulder on the E-train, that press and discomfort.
Small pink tricycle, I type into my phone. Empty bottle of bleach.
I track objects. Look for the discarded. Behind the shuttered
Our Lady of the Lake chapel: flattened box
of animal crackers. Empty bottle of gin.
Taped to a garbage can—handwritten note for those who
will empty it: Thank you and stay safe!  
Merleau-Ponty once said, The body is our general medium
 for having a world, but I walk to outpace my body, to leave it
behind with relief. In the church parking lot, an open
box of Emergency Food from the county, bag of green onions,
school-size carton of milk. You are a bad mother runs the soundtrack
in my head. I can’t give my girls faith in the future.
Later, I’ll drive to the grocery store, in my mask and gloves,
wait in line outside, fill the cart with food for my family, desiring nothing.
I used up all my wanting in the early months, a year ago,
when I bargained everything I loved away to keep my daughters safe.
Now it’s mid-winter, the wind sharp-edged, pricking
my skin, the sky curdled milk. Now I walk to find
the hinge in the world where I can slip back
into the Before, last February when we knew
nothing, my daughters together in a light-pooled room,
together at the kitchen table. I think the body
is a medium for nothing. Later tonight while my girls sleep,
I’ll stretch out awake and shaking under sheets
as if under the surface of river water.

Copyright © 2021 by Nicole Cooley. This poem was first printed in Plume, Issue 118 (June 2021). Used with the permission of the author.