Killed in Childbirth

by Janice N. Harrington
Harrington. Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone. Killed in Childbirth
Dust, stillness, the stench of raw earth, each year, this same solemnity— lifting the trapdoor to take the rungs down and down into a room of sand in search of a box that held nothing. Nothing? A cardboard box tied by twine, storage for two skirts, a cotton blouse, a tea-colored slip, a lady's handkerchief stitched with purple floss by hands she had never touched, though she knew the pockets their fingers had reached into, and the hems they had raised and pushed aside. Heirlooms washed and folded over a garden fence, left for the sun to dry and the heat to billow full again, as clothes will always seek dimension. See—she was a short woman and wide-hipped. She sewed. On Sundays she wore a blue cotton blouse with velvet panels. Her hems swished and smelled of red sand. Nothing more. And the one who raised the trapdoor and lifted the box asks, asks, and asks, but they know nothing more. Slip, skirts, blouse, hanky, she brings them in, smooths the folds into fresh creases, mummies each piece into sheet or pillow sham, and restores them in a cardboard box to sand, to darkness and cool unmoving air. Will anyone save the cloth-skin that once held your shape? Will anyone wash away its darkness?