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’s collections are The Audible and the Evident, winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, (Ohio University Press, February 2020) and Unbeknownst (University of Iowa Press, 2011), Iowa Poetry Prize winner and 2012 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist. Her poetry has earned fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, recent or forthcoming publication in Plume, Bat City Review, The Literary Review, Cold Mountain 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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