Open Competition 2022 Second Prize

After the Disappearances

There was no-one left to tell us
what sorrows were required.
So we hung our sadnesses on the hook
at the back of the door, pinned up our hair,
tied on our aprons and set to with purpose.

We didn’t speak at first, silence pressing
onto the counter tops and into the grain of the table.
Then one started singing, a schoolyard song,
and the rest of us took it up in rounds
voices curling through the smoky, oily air.

In each place we made it right. Righted the furniture,
stowed the tea things properly, scoured the pans.
Scrubbed the flagstones clean of stains. Swept
away the scatterings of needles and old teeth.
The final task was to strop the scissors and the knives.

At the last house we removed the key from the lock
and put it with the others. We didn’t know
what to do with them, so the oldest girl took them all
and dropped them into the well:  
iron against stone
iron against water.

We waited, but nothing happened
and nobody came. So we turned
toward the growing dusk. Into the greyness
between the trees, we disappeared ourselves:
bone back into earth,
earth back into iron.

Penny Blackburn