Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day

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.

Blog Archive