“Dirt” by C.K. Williams

My grandmother is washing my mouth
out with soap; half a long century gone
and still she comes at me
with that thick, cruel, yellow bar.
All because of a word I said,
not even said really, only repeated,
but Open she says, open up!
her hand clawing at my head.

I know now her life was hard;
she lost three daughters as babies,
then her husband died, too,
leaving young sons, and no money.
She’d stand me in the sink to pee
because there was never room in the toilet.
But, oh, her soap! Might its bitter burning
have been what made me a poet?

The street she lived on was unpaved,
her flat two cramped rooms and a fetid
kitchen where she stalked and caught me.
Dare I admit that after she did it
I never really loved her again?
She lived to a hundred, even then.
All along it was the sadness, the squalor,
but I never, until now, loved her again.

5 thoughts on ““Dirt” by C.K. Williams

  1. he wrote this poem about my great grandma, Libby; he and I were first cousins once removed. I never got to meet her, but I’ve always loved this poem because it feels very true, and gave me the most personal insight into that part of our family.

    • Interesting. Thank you for bringing me back to revisit this poem. I haven’t read his work in awhile and it’s good to revisit. I just read his wikipedia article.

      Did you meet C.K? If he were still alive and you had a chance to ask him some questions, what might you ask?

    • Do you happen to know if CK Williams was fluent in any languages other than English? He is listed as a translator for a work originally in Polish but I wonder if he was just on the translation team, to advise on the English after it had been translated.

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