The house is so quiet now
The vacuum cleaner sulks in the corner closet,
Its bag limp as a stopped lung, its mouth
Grinning into the floor, maybe at my
Slovenly life, my dog-dead youth.

I’ve lived this way long enough,
But when my old woman died her soul
Went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear
To see the bag swell like a belly, eating the dust
And the woolen mice, and begin to howl

Because there is old filth everywhere
She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair.
I know now how life is cheap as dirt,
And still the hungry, angry heart
Hangs on and howls, biting at air.

  • Howard Nemerov, “The Vacuum” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

  • Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)

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