Clorox
Nickole Brown

1.

A noun,
as in a commercial disinfecting agent,
but also a verb,
an action to make the water grow
teeth—tiny, crystalline, color-eating teeth—

making the water
capable, bringing red
to its knees,
your oxblood tee now the color of
nipples, your salsa-hot dress neutered
cheap carnation pink,
all our deepest purple
a sad, dry rot of brown.

A complete sentence might read:
Careful now, or Fanny’s gonna clorox
the shit out of your clothes,

but most likely, you’d hear:
Child, you looking like some trash.
Give your grandma that dinge.
I don’t care if you ain’t got a dime.
I told you a hundred times—soap’s cheap.

 

2.

A noun,
but also a verb,
as in    to clorox:

to clorox that carnie tub and toilet,
to clorox the chickengrease backsplash and hand-smudge light switch,
as in to clorox the cup
Donason drank from
when he visited.

He was one of the boys
took in,
raised right
alongside her own,

and he’d come up from Miami
to smoke cigarettes and
to try not to say
goodbye.

Even at six, I could see
the Kaposi sarcoma
too big for the joy
of the violet scarf
spangled round his neck.

When he left, she cloroxed that cup twice,
then threw it out.

 

3.

A smell—
wealth sweetened with a little zip,
a salty tang,
a bright chlorine rising up
to say it’s alright now,
put your babies in water wings, let them splash in,

because this ain’t nothing
like that piss-yellow swimming hole sick
with infantigo, this ain’t nothing like Bowling Green
where the only time she let herself get dunked
was to be baptized in that mudbottom river.

Come. This water is modern,
this water is amnesiac
with no memory of leathery eggs
of cottonmouths hatching in its bank
or catfish whiskering in the
hole below;

hell, this water can’t even remember
common spiders that once straddled its surface,
walking impossible
as Christ himself.

 

4.

An agent manufactured specifically
to break the chemical bonds
of color,

as in to clorox the tub white and the toilet
whiter, as in to clorox the tile white and the grout
whiter, as in to blanch a house
a hundred shades of white—
antique lace walls and cloud trim, the unforgiving stark
of Formica cabinets and counters, the sleepy snow
sheets, shag rugs, the bone leather sofa and chairs,
the take-off-your-shoes-or-Fanny’s-gonna-whoop-your-ass
wall-to-wall white carpet
white enough to put Elvis’ living room
to shame,

everything brand and spanking and new,
everything white
because you know and I know other people are lazy
and buy dark colors to hide
dirt, but you know my house is clean by looking,

her house white
as a baby’s bottom, white
as the pure driven, so white she kept
a black maid six days a week to keep it so.

Now, Bernie, she’d fuss. We got to clorox that damn floor.
Those boys clomped through here—look at those tracks
right cross my clean white rug.
And so

Bernie May put down
her coffee, and without gloves,
cloroxed it all
over again.

 

5.

A formula genius in design—
with high reactivity and instability
it works quick then
disappears,
almost as if it had never been there
at all.

Blow up, blow out, blow over, she’d say
after he took the safety
off his jigsaw with a hammer,
after he tried to fix the broken head
of a sprinkler with a hammer,
after he ran the hood of his pickup through her
carport again.

He knocked us
into chairs and into closets and down the stairs,
and if you tried to stand before
he was done, he’d knock you
back again.

You see, me and Monroe,
well, me and all my kids,
we were natural:
we’d fuss and fight and holler and make up
by suppertime.


Ain’t no sense in holding it in, and damn well ain’t no sense in dragging it out again.

Reader, listen—

You’ve got bad water from the well?

We all do
one time or another.

Just splash a little Clorox in and wait,
and not too long.
This is a poison that works quick then is
gone; this is a poison she saw fit enough
for us, for all of us, to drink.


Nickole Brown’s poem included here is from her upcoming poetry collection Fanny Says, a biography of her grandmother to be published by BOA Editions in May 2015. Her books include her debut, Sister, a novel-in-poems, and an anthology, Air Fare, co-edited with Judith Taylor. She studied at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and was an editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She worked at the independent literary press, Sarabande Books, for ten years and was a National Publicity Consultant for Arktoi Books. Currently, she teaches at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry. Nickole lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.

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