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.