Grave Clothes

On the second day, my father sends me home to wash my brother’s smell out of the house. First, all the clothes from the hamper in his bedroom: soccer uniforms crusted with sweat and mud, T-shirts rank with Old Spice, jeans, boxer shorts, tall black Nike socks. I bury everything in the washer under all the clothing I have packed, and try to soak the scent away with cups and cups of blue detergent. Downstairs, I wretch bile into the kitchen sink, sick on the last dirt of our skin together.

My love declares her bathroom haunted, and I buy bundles of white Californian sage, bound tight in red cord, then bottles of Holy Water. Nothing happens. Later she asks me how I can believe in ghosts but not in God.

My parents are still sick with grief when I send my brother’s body to be cremated. He’s wrapped in the old sweatshirt I promised last spring but never gave. These grave clothes are mildewed by chlorine and my wet hair, just in case. If he is somewhere he can breathe it in, he’ll smell us burning together.

We hang charred sage from the corner of her mirror, and kiss in the shower until the water runs cold over unwashed hair. With soft mouths, we unwind all the darkness of this room, and I can believe, under this rush of water, that nothing feels haunted anymore.

I kneel in front of my washing machine. Place my forehead on the lid and pray I love you, I love you, I love you. Not to anything, but out into everything. I hope this will be enough

Kathryn Leland is a poet from Austin, Texas. She received her BA  from Hendrix College and now works as an Associate Editor with Sibling Rivalry Press. Her debut chapbook "I Wore the Only Garden I’ve Ever Grown" is out now from Headmistress Press.