The Vacuum

By Julie Hanson

Featured Art: Woman Bathing by Mary Cassatt

Don’t ask what it was all about.
Ask instead how sudden it was, how complete.
One minute I was an ordinary woman
vacuuming, a thing it seemed I had too recently done,
and the next minute sobbing,
emitting sounds loud, rapid, and long.
It was the kind of sobbing that makes you feel five—
five years old, or housing a feeling five people wide.
I was seated, my left elbow on my left knee,
my glasses hanging from my left hand
as if they were the problem,
(no use in wearing them, no use in putting them down)
and the vacuum, part pet, part sculpture,
sprawled awkwardly, still shrieking
on the floor in front of me.
The sorrow seemed pulled from outside, unselectively,
as if I had swallowed a magnet.
Each time I felt that I could silence this,
that something had been spent, something settled,
I opened my eyes to that canister,
attachments on its back, hose, and extension,
reality-piece which had withstood the worst of me,
had witnessed, and was unaffected.


Julie Hanson is the author of The Audible and the Evident (Ohio University Press, February 2020), winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, and Unbeknownst (University of Iowa Press, 2011), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She received fellowships from the NEA and Vermont Studio Center and has poems recently or forthcoming in Under a Warm Green Linden, failbetterPlume, Bat City ReviewThe Literary Review, and Copper Nickel.

Originally published in NOR 6

“The Vacuum” has since been collected in The Audible and the Evident by Julie Hanson, © 2020. Reprinted by permission of the Ohio University Press.

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