THE QUESTION OF LAUNDRY
by Celia Gilbert
Who remembers the swell and smack of wet clothes
hung out to dry,
the whites and the coloreds in separate rows—flapping,
and the clothes pins like little people with rounded heads and splayed legs
invented by the practical Shakers
who forbade sex but created the seed catalogue?
How beautiful the arms stretching to reach the line
and the body bending to the basket of work:
repetition and variation as a sky produces clouds
shifts of light, rearrangements of itself.
Who remembers the maid who lost her nose?
Who recalls sly glances towards the neighbor's lines
where dresses and shirts bobbed and blew free
of the burden of bodies,
or the semaphore of underwear
half-ashamed, half-proud to be viewed?
Monday we wash, Tuesday we bake . . .
who remembers that days of the week
were once sacred to household tasks?
Who remembers how mothers held several pins in their mouths
working against time?
Who remembers running to bring in the clothes
against a sudden rain?
Who remembers the scent of the clothes
their fragrance of weather?
Who can forget clean sheets
taken from the linen closet,
threads chastened and compliant,
and the way pressed against their coolness,
your tired body slipped into night?
Copyright © 2011 by Celia Gilbert.