WASHING UP

To my late love
The dishes, he insisted, were his job.
Talmud scholar turned doctor, trained
to use brain, not hands–until now.
In our late marriage, he changed, eager
to master new skills–cutting brush,
running the vac, taking out the trash.
But washing up was the chore
he loved best. Shooed me
out of the kitchen after supper
never consenting to let the stuff
soak in the sink until morning–
no matter how I pleaded.

Barehanded he takes on the grease,
scours the pots with the zeal of a true
believer, davening over the suds,
the steam, the water scalding hot
as in a hospital scrub-room.
He loves to marshal the cutlery —
separating forks from knives from spoons
as they go into the dishwasher
–so they will emerge neatly next day
to slip back into their proper places.

And so comes up to bed at last–
his hands smelling of Lemon Joy,
his face rosy, hot as a lover’s.
Even the late bad years, as so much
drains from his mind and is lost,
he keeps up this blessed routine.
Slower and slower, the familiar
movements, but unstoppable.
I try spiriting off the dishes so fast
there won’t be anything left unwashed.
Until I see–why not sooner?–how
he needs to keep up this husbandry.
To stay useful–at least in this.
And thereafter I leave a token plate,
a cup or two, stacked in the sink,
for the dear work of his shaky hands.

Geraldine Zetzel