what we learn in time of pestilence

the blackberries mold again before they’re half-eaten
everyone needs toilet paper and diapers
                                                                                    dirt cheap
new washing machines are hard to come by

we/she/they have no words

assisted living
                                                                                    dragged through the dirt

my mother struggles toward the bathroom 
on camera behind her walker, soils herself
                                                                                    don’t talk dirty
she can’t help it, but she’s still ashamed
                                                                                    eat dirt

I wiped her bottom in January 
& said I’d be back in March

I am no fortune teller

                                                                                    hit the dirt

she grew up in dust storms,
stuffing rags under doors hurry-scurry, 
dirt-poor, and that’s shameful too
                                                                                    don’t air your dirty laundry in

she wants to eat chocolate all day
she wants to send hose to her grandmother
she wants to know why we stole her baby 
she wants to know when the kids are coming 
she wants to know where my father is
                                                                                    treated like dirt
she wants to know the time/the day/the month/the year

my family doesn’t know how to communicate
                                                                                    dig up dirt

when my mother said dirty she meant

Copyright © 2021 by Wendy Vardaman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.