Mondays, in her wash house
between the garden and the hen coop,
my grandmother sang,
“Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord,” while she
pulled khaki pants and denim shirts
through her wringer washing machine.
Work clothes that bore a day’s
cargo of sweat and red dirt,
without daring to wrinkle.
Before the dust kicked up
or the storm blew in, she unpinned
the wind stiffened clothes, singing
“I’m forever blowing bubbles,
pretty bubbles in the air.”
Tuesdays, brown beans and salt pork
hissed on the stove as she sprinkled
and rolled enough clothes
to fill two bushel fruit baskets.
Only towels and wash rags
escaped the grip of her mangle,
the hot kiss of her iron
as she sang, “If I had the wings
of an angel, through this prison
wall I would fly.”
Some days I crave the smell of steam
rising from clean cotton,
long for the steady slow pulse
of Tuesday routine:
pillowcase, tablecloth, handkerchief,
press, fold, press, fold, press;
rote progression of blouses and shirts,
facing, yoke, facing,
back, “Swing low, sweet chariot,
coming for to carry me home.”
Swing low. Carry me home. Swing low.
From Mansions, by Donna Hilbert, 1990, Event Horizon Press.
A month or so ago I went to a book festival. I never go to book festivals. Choosing which of three breakout sessions to sit in, I picked a poetry reading. I never pick poetry readings. The room was small. The chair was plastic. I questioned my whereabouts.
A woman spoke and called my name. She gave my address; she typed in my password. She transfused my blood; she sequenced my DNA. I was home.
She is Donna Hilbert, and this is her poem. It’s not enough to say I love this poem, or say that I love Donna Hilbert. It’s not enough to share her. No, it’s not enough. I have to give her to you. Then you can come home too.
Leave a comment or three or four on this post by this Sunday, June 20 to win a copy of one of Donna’s published poetry collections. I promise you, it’s not like the poetry you wouldn’t pick. It is the poetry of you. But leave your comment quickly, because I might change my mind and keep the prize. I like to be at home all by myself.
Photo credit: The amazing Terri Fischer, who also reminds me of me, except I remind her of her aunt, the bright-eyed nun who always knows the way home.
Deadline for comments is Sunday, June 20 because that was my mom’s birthday. Welcome home, Mom.