Dust by Brenda Miller


My mother’s laid a trap
for the cleaning crew—
will they dust, or even notice
the gray film gilding

her nightstand? She lets it
gather day after day,
week after week,
measures by millimeter

this coating, a reminder
of all that is wrong.
They come every Monday
to empty her trash,

vacuum, scrub the toilet—
they’d make her bed too
if she let them, but she
says no, she’ll do it

she’s always done it,
pulled the covers just so,
palmed the bedspread clear
of wrinkles, it doesn’t take

much, she uses
such little space, a tiny
indentation, so unmoving
you have to watch her chest

closely to make sure she’s
still alive. She rises
every morning at 7 because
she doesn’t know how

to reset the alarm. She slumps
at the edge of the mattress,
hand on her cane,
stares at the dust that

might, still, hold
parts of my father, small
cells, weightless, keeping
her company now.


Brenda Miller is the author of five essay collections, most recently An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016). She also co-authored Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction and The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University, and associate faculty at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her website is www.brendamillerwriter.com.