Laundry: A Poem
I'm trying something new tonight: sharing a poem with you. Seeing this artist's rendering of dryer lint reminded me of a poem I wrote in college. The scene that unfolds in it is fictional, but feels very real to me.
I'm rather shy about sharing this with you. Poetry is like singing for me: I enjoy it, but haven't the faintest idea if I'm any good at it. With my narrative non-fiction writing, I can usually get a handle on things and decide if a piece is good, or at least passable. But my own poetry leaves me baffled. I know I like some of it, but I have no bearing beyond that. Perhaps therein lies my answer: If I like it, it's good (enough) for me.
And so, I stand up and sing in front of the world:
The agitated sloshing of cold water Tide
Is white background noise
To accompany silent swirling snow outside.
Two chairs from the door, resplendent in purple polyester pants,
And a gold paisley shirt
Plumps a sitting woman, serious about her breathing.
Across the room, brown and stout, the change machine crouches.
A small boy, same shade as the machine, though slighter in build,
Reaches on tip-toes to feed it a limp dollar,
Laughing with accomplishment as four shiny quarters clatter
Into the curved cup.
In the corner, farthest from the windows
(Though the fluorescent lights allow no shadow)
Entwines a couple, as agitated as my washer.
A harsh buzz,
The spin cycle stops.
Time to dry.
I open the smooth white lid to towels and shirts
Stuck, wet heavy cold, to the pin-holed sides of the steel tub,
Like people pressed to the walls of that amusement park ride
Spinning wildly and the floor dropped out and your face flattened
With the pressure.
The lint in the tray is soft speckled grey:
Leftovers of some stranger's laundry.
I'd like to keep it --
Collect the lint of a hundred machines,
Weave a familiar eclectic sweater
To wear when the wind threatens my warmth.
Instead, not to look odd in front of the wheezing polyester woman
(now sucking on a soda)
I toss it away and heap
My own into the dryer.
In the corner, the couple giggles.
The little brown boy stares until
Her arms full of kiddie clothes,
A yellow, green, and white box of fabric softener wedged between her chin and chest.
The boy spies Polyester's Mountain Dew and clamors
For more change.
Another washer shutters to a stop.
The girl of the couple swings her tight acid washed jean hips to the machine,
Peers inside, unsure of the next step.
I wonder if her man will strut to her side and save his distressed damsel;
But he just stares at her backside leaning over the open lid.
A click and a beep.
My towels are warm and fluffy,
But too worn
For a Downey advertisement.
My basket piled full of woven lint,
I set it on the orange plastic scoop chair beside me.
The smell of static-electricity,
Tiny crackling sparks as I pull apart
Washcloths and socks,
Pillowcase and bathmat.
The mother drops a small pair of overalls
And the boy asks me, "Do you have a quarter?"