Poets Online Archive
 Laundry
December 2008

Serendipity played a part in this end-of-year prompt. I was rearranging bookshelves of poetry books and took down Jane Kenyon's collection called Otherwise. I was just reading randomly and came across the little poem titled "Wash."

It started me thinking about the clotheslines of my youth. I loved the smell and heat of summer sun that was on the cloth fresh off the line. That was something that was in every backyard on my street. Now, I can't remember the last time I saw one.

That night I was clicking around the web looking for poems and came across "Whether or Not There Are Apples" by Robin Behn - another poem about wash on the clothesline. Both poems share that feeling I had of sun-warmed and season-scented cloth.

Our prompt is simple - a poem about laundry, wash, clotheslines or anything connected to that whole simple experience.

More about this prompt and others, plus the chance for you to interact with your fellow poets is available on the Poets Online Blog.

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) was a well-known contemporary American writer. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she published four collections of poetry and a translation of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova before her untimely death from leukemia in 1995. She was featured with her husband, poet Donald Hall, on the Bill Moyers' special, "A Life Together."

Robin Behn is the author of Paper Bird, and The Red Hour and is the co-editor of The Practice of Poetry.  She teaches in the MFA Program at The University of Alabama.

    


THROUGH THE WASH

Hand-warmer jacket, keeper of a key,
of lint and small change; scribbles
on a scrap of paper – words, just
a first draft; not yet a poem – soggy.
(I should have checked the pockets.)
Now I turn them wrong-side out,
see fabric’s patience of fraying, how
it waits for ripping out of seams;
turn them inside-out to daylight
and a poem’s long-pocketed dreams.

Taylor Graham


ON WINTER WASH DAYS

On winter wash days, those on the cusp
of warmth, we hung out the clothes
with numb fingers, feeling the curtain
of clouds closing in.

Those were the days when the sun
often hid, and the cold never left at all.

Fabric froze hard, and dresses
and shirts grew solid and stiff.
Rows of sheets, towels and clothes
waved wildly, like pages of a book
flapping in the wind.

In late afternoon, we took it all down,
clothespins snapping shut as each piece
was pulled, placed in the wicker
basket and taken inside.

The darkness closed in early
those mid-winter days, the
evening star sometimes rising
before the icy moon.

Mary Kendall


DIRTY LAUNDRY

My mother always told me that
we do not air our dirty laundry,
but I knew that we did.
We put it outside our house
on the sunniest days
where every stain and tear
could wave at the neighbors.
My mother put it out there
singing in her boozy way
while Mrs. P. next door peered
over her white sheets and frowned.
I tried hard to gather our laundry
and pull the line back to the house,
but I was too small, too weak
to do the job. It flapped like flags.
It followed me to school, hung half
from my locker, slid out of my books
and left its scent of life sweated out
on me for all these years.

Pamela Milne


CYCLES

I swirl the blue detergent in the cap of the bottle,
and spread it around my tangled, dirty t-shirts

before setting the timer. The soap reminds me of sand,
of pieces of summer falling through a hole in my fist

to be whipped up into the ocean. The waves slide
over each other like sheets of glass and what sand

they pull away rests too deep for me to reach it.
My mind is on currents, the idea of motion,

of revolving around one thing-- a thick plastic pole
or even the notion of childhood. And if I can draw this parallel,

if I can make the tile of my laundry room whisper between my toes
like sand, I can find a way to count those cycles.

Jason Sherwood


NOW THEY ARE ALLEYS

back then
we entered through
backyards.

slim paved passages
slinked ‘tween
chain link boxes
with squeaky gates.

clotheslines
on same side of fences
meant your neighbor
was a fond friend.

chit-chat and clothespin
bags made from baby’s
dress too tattered
to hand-me-down, hung
in the air like the scent before rain.

housedresses, headscarves,
hand waving and smiling eyes
peek over sheets while
whiffs of baked goods,
greens or roasts, creep
through kitchen windows.

sometimes they sipped
tea, sat on milk crates, caught
up on gossip, bragged bout
grades, promotions,
grandbabies,
till the linens were sun-dried
dinner was done,
night or husbands came home,

with friends
and brown paper bags
filled with clanking
cans or crawling crabs
but always laughter.

those were the backyards
we entered through
back then.

Michele Mitchell


BLEACH

As a teenager, I used it to age my jeans.
We wanted the new to be comfortable.
We were too anxious to wait for time
to fade them for us. Blue jeans dyed
the color of a deep ocean
but we wanted the sky.

Now, I use bleach when something new
has taken a stain. I try to reverse the process
and bring back the original color.

Color fades and even the deepest blues lighten
over time. My once sun-bleached hair,
my jeans,the sky
in the ocean,
threadbare time
showing worn fabric.

Lianna Wright


GRENELLE AVENUE 1953

i lean out the bedroom window
toss stale bread to the sparrows
their feet curl tightly round the
tops of pale cotton sheets flapping and
twisting in a periwinkle bluster

the birds explode into flight as
my mother reels in the morning
wash - settling on the cement below
mr. sam's cat watches intently as
two play tug- o -war with a crust of bread


my grandfather sits proudly on his
makeshift bench right next to the grapevine
old stogie carefully extinguished
at his side - he smells of tobacco and
vinegar - acknowledges us with a nod

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


WASHING
at Tom Collins House

Today you won't see one
but back in the Sixties
the historic house I lived in had
a timber and wire clothesline,
propped up in mid string
by the long branch of a gum tree
which forked at the top and held up
each sagging line. Urban Aboriginals,
out of work and down on their lunch,
walked door to door selling these props,
cut down on bush walks out of town.
With over six metres of sheets and nappies
flapping in an easterly off the desert, strong wires
hung loose between two crucifixes
with movable arms. On the night of a full moon
a small feathered woman would arrive
and sit on top of the post near
the gnarled and knotted mulberry tree,
her wisdom silent in her,
two deep eyes focused on me
as I wrote by moonlight,
sitting on the back steps,
pad resting on sunburnt knees.

Andrew Burke

CLOTHESLINES

At parties younger you and I
Danced about the clothesline hoist, waving
Translucent scarves, painted toenails
Daring our men
To follow or observe
Buoyed by the hour
And expectations of excess

I recall the first week
He arrived
To move the line upon a chance remark
In the midst of guests and conversation
I looked out to find it on its side
Concrete feet exposed
A Godfather’s secret

He hauled it out of sight
Behind the shed
But still one night
We danced around the pole
Under a half moon
With children
Drinks and party lights

Then older and more worn
Another me, he
Place, lifetime
Praised the virtues of the compact line
Against a corrugated fence
Overtaken by vines
And purple flowers

Convention soon established
His side and mine
Sensible underpants to the back
Public clothes
Midwest
An indiscretion of towels and sheets
Full frontal

You came with your new man
We barbequed
The music was subdued
Mosquitoes less so
Worried of wayward
Hoped for kids, grandkids
Didn’t dance

Iris Lavell


A WASH IN THE YARD

The line buckled and weighed heavily down
A damp deluge now lay upon the ground
Scattered about everywhere and around
All in a moment without warning, nary a sound
My eyes caught what had become a big big mess
Standing still amazed quietly becoming distress
Racing through memory remembering the dress
Faltering stumbling blank no more no less
Sun tucked away behind a clouded vestibule
Leaving a cold wind, Mother Nature proved another fool
Lessons to be taught, unable in school
Fate so twisted, fate so cruel
Randomly strewn clothing lay, laid randomly
Colors cleaned gleaming for effects so brightly
What has become is now stained unsightly
Warm wind blew through seemingly not lightly
Luck has not found my side
As now I am left with this mess to hide
Shirts here, pants there, oh why, I cried
A summer’s day so sweet has gone awry
Collecting collections from years past
Time to begin again from start alas
It all seems so wasted, yes and crass
And here I remain amongst the cleanest of grass
The line has been tethered, wash has become washed
A trust once had is now gone and is squashed
Line rolls out without even a quiver or crashed
I lay out the clothes to dry, dried and then stashed

Jeff Pivetta


THE NATURE OF LAUNDRY

I Have never used a clothesline.
I am too young to know the nostalgia they induce.
I do not know the way a fresh-air-hung-dry
Article of clothing smells
Or feels.
I do know that the automatic dryer in my laundry room
Is faster
And easier
And you are guaranteed warmth upon donning a freshly dried article.
And you don't need pins.
And you don't need to fight your clothes
And tell them, "stay, don't wander in the wind!"
And that a dryer may be hidden in a closet
And not unsightly like those lines of clothes I have seen
Strung between city apartments
And in the back yards of the old-school.
And while they may be cheaper
They seem like too much work.
And I would rather look at the trees, the flowers, and the grass.

Frances Reinus


MAN MOPPING MEMPHIS LAUNDROMAT

I'm-a lose it, Louis.
splash smack slap
What I'm s'pose to do,
take the po-lice smack!
with me to get
my own check? slop,
splash. Smack! I'm-a cawl them
tell'em I don't need slap!
their shit no more splash,
smack. Got too many other brands
slosh slap! to choose from.
You know I'm a lose it
they keep that up. Louis!
splash. You got a smoke?

Laurel Jenkins-Crowe

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