put your elbows into it
by Lilly Sabella
I’ve lived in the same home in Queens my whole life, and everything—from cabinet doors to cereal boxes—reminds me of my childhood. This is a poem about my parents and how I fit into our family.
My mother washed dishes my whole life
her fingernails long and wet under suds of dish soap
and with each smear of Dawn over our plastic plates and cups,
she’d show me how to really put your elbow into it.
When you’re cleaning up after a man.
My father ate dry cereal every night before he went to bed
he’d take those plastic cups
leave every cabinet door open
every cereal box out
and fall into bed with a groan
his hip his back his knee always aching
and on the nights he’d cramp and twitch
because his screams were so loud it had to mean Trouble,
and with Cheerios crumbs pressed into his skin, he showed me
How to really be afraid of a man.
Some nights, lying in the middle of Mom and Dad
like a cigarette between teeth
they showed me broken glass in little girl feet
Kind of love
Knobby knees and questions from the police
Kind of love
All the neighbors hear nothing see nothing speak nothing
Of this Kind of love
But still, I remember Mom doing the dishes, Dad eating his cereal
putting away cereal boxes and closing cabinet doors.