Mondays, in her wash house
between the garden and the hen coop,
my grandmother sang,
“Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord,” while she
pulled khaki pants and denim shirts
through her wringer washing machine.
Work clothes that bore a day’s
cargo of sweat and red dirt,
without daring to wrinkle.
Before the dust kicked up
or the storm blew in, she unpinned
the wind stiffened clothes, singing
“I’m forever blowing bubbles,
pretty bubbles in the air.”
Tuesdays, brown beans and salt pork
hissed on the stove as she sprinkled
and rolled enough clothes
to fill two bushel fruit baskets.
Only towels and wash rags
escaped the grip of her mangle,
the hot kiss of her iron
as she sang, “If I had the wings
of an angel, through this prison
wall I would fly.”
Some days I crave the smell of steam
rising from clean cotton,
long for the steady slow pulse
of Tuesday routine:
pillowcase, tablecloth, handkerchief,
press, fold, press, fold, press;
rote progression of blouses and shirts,
facing, yoke, facing,
back, “Swing low, sweet chariot,
coming for to carry me home.”
Swing low. Carry me home. Swing low.
From Traveler in Paradise: New and Selected Poems (Pearl Editions, 2003).
Used here with the author’s permission.