When No One Else Watches

By Sahar Romani

There’s an ongoingness
            to the upkeep of living,

solo performance to empty
            the dish rack, return knives

to the dark of drawers,
            rinse yesterday off my face.

How humble dust keeps me
            no matter my accomplishments

I wake with fermented breath
            and am caught in ceremony

flossing my gums pink,
            daily excursion in maintenance—

my mother’s favorite word
            in English from the French

to hold fast or keep, as in
            keep your word or keep track

of birthdays, anniversaries, next month’s rent
            or keep my hand in your hand, keep faith

when air is no longer air
            but elegy of a burning tree

my mother calls her beloveds
            salaam, khuda hafiz, she says

with such devotion
            the cat licks its hind legs

until space between duty and pleasure disappears.
            I want to be that animal

so present, I forget beauty
            beyond the shapes I make.

Originally published in The Yale Review, Fall 2021.