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Going Home
Donna Hilbert

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.

Donna Hilbert writes and teaches private workshops from her home in Long Beach, California. Her work is widely published in multiple languages and she is featured in the documentary, “Grief Becomes Me: A Love Story.”  Learn more about Donna at


Post New Comment:
I love all those songs. Great poem!
Posted 04/13/2013 06:40 AM
Thanks for the sweet comments--they warm my heart. Thanks also for the shoot/chute correction. Not my first mistake in print and I'm sure it won't be the last!
Posted 03/16/2013 05:59 PM
Donna, you captured the scene(s) --washing, ironing--perfectly. Such sharp images!
Posted 03/16/2013 08:43 AM
Sorry, chute, not shoot.
Posted 03/15/2013 09:47 PM
Ah, I remember the mangle. My younger brother was a terror and the only way to make him stop was to stuff him into second floor laundry shoot which ended in a cage in the basement, which we did, or threaten to put him through the mangle, which we never had to do.
Posted 03/15/2013 09:46 PM
I remember grandma and poppy's farm, and the two cast iron irons that she kept on her kitchen window sill. mornings we would climb out of the feather bed and rush to the coal burning stove in the middle of the room to warm up. thanks for the memories.
Posted 03/15/2013 03:47 PM
barbara eknoian:
I can hear her grandmother singing. She sounds as though she was a very positive grandma.
Posted 03/15/2013 03:27 PM
My mother used a mangle, and the thought of fingers getting caught under those inexorably turning rollers scared me to death! Also dreaded, but less frightening, were the curtain stretchers with their border of small, sharp nails.
Posted 03/15/2013 12:49 PM
It was the singing that did it for me and the smell of hot cotton under that iron.
Posted 03/15/2013 10:49 AM
Lovely. My grandma' sang some of those song/hymns, too. What a remembrance to bring to me this day. Thank you.
Posted 03/15/2013 09:35 AM
I love this, Donna! Great images, many of which I experienced. I remember that bubbles song--my mother sang it. : )
Posted 03/15/2013 08:39 AM
I had a wonderful grandma just like that--lovely poem, Donna, thanks.. Sharon Auberle
Posted 03/15/2013 08:16 AM

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