A poem for Labor Day, from those years when I cleaned houses - first, as an undergraduate in the Dover/Sherborn/Wellesley part of Massachusetts, then as a young mother in and around Tacoma, Washington.
Aunt Josie’s Housekeeping, Inc.
I clean houses. I vacuum. I dust all the cheap ceramic knick knacks collected over a lifetime of distractions. I scrub the tub, edges of the sink, behind the toilet. I tote a bucket full of products: Pledge, PineSol, Comet, 409. I wield sponges with scratchy edges. I put away towels, mop hardwood floors with water and vinegar, sometimes on hands and knees if that’s what you like. I wash dishes encrusted with hard scraps, throw out fast food bags and Big Gulp cups, sweep up the spilled Cheerios. I find a corn plant growing in the soil between the edge of the linoleum and the baseboard of the kitchen sink. I can’t make myself pluck it out; so green, so exuberant, so illegal. The woman of the house blushes with shame when I point out the ribbony spiral of leaves to her little girl. I clean houses. $10 an hour, no benefits, no sick leave. No union. I pull pornography out from under the playroom sofa, scrape moldy bowls found in the fridge, kneel before the vegetable bins in silent attention. I feed the surviving goldfish, give the feral teddy bear hamster water, replace wet stinky cedar shavings from its cage with fresh chips. I scrape out the overflowing catbox, clay pellets hardened into a layer like sedimentary rock. I empty the garbage can in the master bedroom: used condoms and wrappers, torn pantyhose, toenail clippings, pages ripped from a spiral notebook: “Why did I ever have that affair? What was I thinking? How could I have hurt so many people?” I polish the locked case beside the bed, carved out of dark wood, smelling of weed and patchouli. I clean houses. I sop up secrets. I smooth the wrinkles out on the surface of lives for people too busy or too important to do it themselves. I’m a dark woman with a long black braid, walking across the lawn at the end of a long week. The gardeners and lawn boys from Oaxaca and Guatemala give me their eyes and a silent nod. But you don’t see me. You won’t remember me. Except for this poem, it’s like I was never there.