Today Pamela Ahlen takes us inside a garage and into a scene many of us will recognize. Women gather when women are widowed, taking up the tasks that weigh too much for any one person to do alone. How lucky that Ahlen brings a light touch to the heavy lifting. Come back next week to see how she feels about taking things in rather than cleaning them out.


Cleaning Out M’s Garage

R’s the methodical one,
directing placement of boxes,
when to use the broom. We toss away accretion,
the cleaning job M put off or couldn’t do:
a serpentine belt coiled like a dormant black racer,
a pine cone wreath, the 1040 from 1995.
The new fishing pole he’ll never use.
B carries on about catching Blue Lake bass,
seeing his grandson play ball. What was M not thinking
when his ankles swelled, his breathing clogged,
the end game he could have delayed?
But we can’t undo what R calls God’s will,
what I call random chance and B—stupidity.
B can’t sleep alone, breathing for the first time on her own.
Furious at the freedom. Says she doesn’t like the label wife.
Widow. I remember their wedding day, B the first of us to marry,
how we genuflected dutifully in our satin gowns before the sacrosanct.
I’m the therapy queen, urge tears and group support,
a grief meeting the next day. B goes,
but doesn’t stay for the full serving of sorrow.
R and I leave after spanking the garage clean.


                        Grateful acknowledgement is made to Bloodroot,  where this poem first appeared.

Patricia AhlenPamela Ahlen is program coordinator for Bookstock (Woodstock, Vermont), one of three Vermont literary festivals. She has organized literary readings for Osher (Lifelong Education at Dartmouth). Pam received an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have most recently appeared in Bloodroot, Birch Song, Bohemia, and The Sow’s Ear. She is the author of the chapbook Gather Every Little Thing (Finishing Line Press).

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  • Deb Johnson February 25, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Dear Pam,
    Reading ‘garage’ poem I felt like I was there – feeling and thinking right along with the women. How real, how deep. Your writing is extraordinary.

  • Roxanne Graney October 26, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Pam, Your ART of language painted the picture perfectly. Such a gift you have. Enjoy reading your poetry. Thank you for sharing gift with us. Roxanne

    • Roxanne Graney January 21, 2017 at 7:25 am

      We have the same name!