top of page

Dust to Dust: a poem by Mary Eileen Ball

Photo: two brooms lying on a rich brown wooden floor, image by Petra, on Pixabay.

brooms, image by Petra, on Pixabay

Dust to Dust

The salty smell of bleach on skin reminds me of you, Granny.

Each time I clean the sink I am transported to your

grimy kitchen with the yellow gloves propped

to dry on paper towel tubes tilted in your window

looking out over a dirt backyard with old dogs lying askance. 

You whipped the rottweiler with the belt for digging, 

And that wasn't the first whipping you gave. I got plenty.

And the comments ("Sissy!") said with curled lip and disdain dripping off the s.  

At first, I was too young for makeup and needed the belt, 

Then I was too old not to wear it, 

And I was too big to get a husband. 

You screamed as I read Judy Blume.

I couldn't help you with your hoarding or anger at being a high school dropout but

Mama said you wept, wept about not getting a diploma. 

As old age settled in your bones you yelled less 

("I just wanna git along with everybody") and complained more.  

Finally your bitterness seeped into your feet and they swelled to purple.  

Blood clots.  Spots on the liver.  Terminal cancer.  

We gathered round to watch you die.

"Jesus, kill me. Kill me, Jesus," you begged and He took two weeks, but He did.  

It was only years later that I closed my eyes in prayer to glimpse your yellowed wisp of

a face, 

mouth sunken, open, trying to breathe your last,

finally stilled forever. And the Lord made me look at you.  

And He told me I'd made a giant of you with my anger, an idol of you, 

That you were only dust and I was only dust, and I needed to forgive,  

You did love me.  

You walked me to school well into your sixties, 

Made macaroni lunch and wheels (circular potatoes).  

You told me you were proud of how smart I was.  

And just before your feet started to swell, after I had a hideous outburst when you needed help getting to the bathroom, 

You told me in your stilted language that I'd done a lot for you, 

had given you the prettiest Christmas tree, 

and was your only granddaughter.   

And so I say, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," and I pray I'll see you again.  

At your funeral, all I could muster was the image of you sweeping the floor two or three times with a red doo rag in your white hair.  

"She complained of how much she got up after everyone else swept. When she swept,

she swept well," I said. 

"And she loved well, too." 


Mary Eileen Ball lives in the Deep South with her husband and young son. She has been published in Heart of Flesh, Agape Review, Calla Press, and others. You can find her on Facebook at

107 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page