Back of the Navy housing project

the women hang the laundry.

Under a thin morning sun, braced

against a keening wind, my mother lifts

wet towels out of the wicker basket,

heaves them to the curving clothesline

higher than the top of her head

and a late setting sickle moon.

I hand her up the wooden pegs one by one,

adrift in a cotton trance.


The back yards are a harbor full of sails

rippling in the icy breeze;

freezing stiff, cotton diapers

are lined up in ranks on review.

My brother and I play hide and seek

among the swaying sheets, or crouch

between two lines as in a bivouacked

tent, telling stories of heroes and feasts.

Rows of back doors, scuffed dirt,

a red tricycle.


Family uniforms come off the line

in a fading yellow afternoon. We

slide the pegs back into their cloth bag,

stack frozen diapers in the basket.

Red chapped hands wrapped

around mugs of hot chocolate thaw

in the cramped steamy apartment.

The clean clothes relax into tenderness

throwing off a fresh cold scent,

silver notes from a Celtic harp.


My mother’s life, the story of a day:

gathering, washing, hanging, drying,

sorting and folding, putting away.



Pamela has published three books, a number of articles and poems in journals and has a poetry chapbook forthcoming.


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  1. I love this! I can almost smell the crisp clean of those sheets. It was so much work back then though, wasn’t it? And I still don’t understand how Navy whites stayed white…

  2. How beautiful the imagery in your poem, and how tenderly you wrote it.  I grew up an Army brat, and have many such memories I wish I could convey with your talent.  Please gift us with more!

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