Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Clean Practically Anything


by Jennifer O'Grady


Yes, housework can be a chore

               A day, a day rinsed free of night

everyone enjoys a clean and orderly home

               a table wiped clear of crumbs and spills

the best way to do the maximum amount
of work, without becoming overwhelmed

               floor swept, dustpan emptied into plastic
               bags which are placed inside sealed metal cans

is to perform it in a systematic fashion

               dishwasher emptied, opaque and stainless

blot the stain, wipe away any residue

               whites now sorted, his socks, his shirts
               old egg-yolk yellow under the arms

try these to ensure results
reward your efforts:

               his underwear, the boxers faded and frayed
               repeating their pattern of angular hearts

be sure to remove any hooks or weights

               their scattered and miniature x's and o's
               openings measured for admission or exit

don't overload the machine, and remember

               his colors tangling in a tossed-off pile
               of mostly darks, mostly black and blues

fabric becomes much heavier when wet

               while here and there a spring green
               a tremulous yellow

protect from strong sunlight
and abrasive objects

               a newborn pink, streak
               of surprisingly deep red

warning: damages may not be covered

               like fresh blood, a raw and unsutured cut

try a product that claims to hide
surface scratches

               to be rinsed and wrung, dried and folded and piled
               into the thing we call a long marriage

if the marks have darkened
use a sharp knife

               these daily removals, these many attempts
               to wipe clean the counter the table the slate

if the burn is deep use filler
smoothing it to match the surface

               the windows now free of fingerprints and smears
               as if there were no glass no barrier no space

work carefully to avoid
damaging the paint

               in which to revisit your own faint reflection

this coating should last for years



Reading this poem snapped me back to the early years of motherhood - perhaps because I studied a similar book by Alma Chesnut Moore in trying to gain some skill in the art of keeping house. I wasn't alone in feeling confounded by domesticity - I was surrounded by creative, educated women who were suddenly home with children, laundry, surfaces to clean, furniture to fix, order to find in the daily waves of chaos that seems to follow new parents around.  To do this and anything else required a mental version of ambidexterity that I didn't possess - one mind focused on the physical and the other on the metaphysical.  I was always getting the two mixed up. This is what Jennifer O'Grady captures so perfectly here - the the waves of poetic thought lapping at the shore of the endless list of domestic to-dos and how-to-dos.  This poem appears in Poetry Daily and was originally published in Southwest Review.  If you are reading this without having read Moths, visit that page by clicking the link to find out more about Jennifer's work and read another terrific poem.   (Reprinted with permission of the author)

Images ~ Baby in the basket is by Devinf (visit to see more incredibly cute photos of baby Rune and really amazing yarn  work),  I found it first on Taylor Flannery's blog.  How To Clean Everything, one of the many editions by Alma Chesnut Moore, now available on Google Books.  The French Laundry advertisement can be found here.

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