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Sometimes my husband, smartphone in hand, will turn to me in bed and say something like, what is soap?

I will look at him. The book I am reading in bed is beauty, is depth, is meaning to me. What is soap? is a factoid and, frankly, a ridiculous thing to consider during the poetry hour.

What is soap?, I say. It's is the stuff we clean things with. What do you mean what is soap?

He begins to type fervently and I know he is googling the question. And then tells me, slapping the pillow between us down so that he can see me better, soap is a salt composed of an alkali metal and a mixture of fatty carboxylic acids. The cleansing action of soap comes from its unique ability to surround oil particles, causing them to be dispersed in water and easily rinsed away.

You see, he says. That’s what soap is. It draws things off of us.

I do see, I say, nodding.

What is soap is a question with an answer but also a reminder that we know so very little of how things work, that mystery and our smallness in the vastness of time and space is always present. And any poem we may read is just our attempt to understand maybe one small thing for one small moment, in the expanse of existence.

Therefore, what is soap? is indeed and after all a poem before slumber. And my lids, weighted down by the finality of the answer and the infinite possibilities of the google factoid poem, begin to fall.


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