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Life is Laundry

Life is dirty. Life is clean. Life is colorful. Life is dull. Life can be sorted, washed, dried, folded, hung up, or neatly put away.

Laundry is the great equalizer. Everyone needs freshly laundered clothes. It doesn’t matter if you wash them yourself or hire someone to do it. It is a task that must be done.

Parents teach their children how to launder clothes as a necessary life skill. For many, wearing a pink shirt as the result of mixing white shirts with red towels is a rite of passage.

The life is laundry motif runs throughout my writing, most noticeably in my short story collection, The Human Act.

In “Fistful of Love,” a pregnant woman carries her laundry on her head, negotiating the stairs and the narrow walkway to the laundry room to wash and dry her family’s clothes. The narrator surreptitiously watches her through the peephole, infatuated with her. Laundry symbolizes the pregnant woman’s burden. Behind the safety of a front door, the narrator fantasizes about rescuing the pregnant woman and relieving her of her misery.

In “Randy Returns,” the narrator reminisces about her husband teaching her how to sort the clothes when they were newlyweds. The act of instructing a basic skill symbolizes the fundamental love her husband had for her long after he has passed away. It is a legacy that cannot be stolen. When the narrator washes the homeless friend’s clothes, it is an act of love.

In “Hope in the Laundry Room,” a woman loses her charm in a washer. The narrator finds it and returns it to her, sparking the start of a relationship full of caring and caretaking.

I have washed and dried many loads of laundry throughout my life, from the baskets full of soiled infant bibs to adult work shirts and pants and everything in between. I’ve watched colors fade and bleed, stains removed or set, clothes shrunk from XXL to XXS.

Laundering is as much a science as it is an art. No two people launder the same. No two items of clothing require the same care. Pockets full of tissue can cause a whole load to become full of lint. Candy wrappers may wash out just fine, but gum may stick and later dry on material that is hard to remove.

But no matter whether the clothes fade or shrink or come out just fine, we are all in this laundry of life together, and the lessons we learn are as necessary as clean clothes.

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Celebrating National Poetry Month


In honor of National Poetry Month, I am posting a poem for your enjoyment. It’s one of those “found” poems from my notebook in which I jot down observations, insights, snippets of conversations, and idiosyncrasies that simmer for months or sometimes years until a poem eventually emerges.

Hotel La Violeta

We step out of the elevator and into soft blue light—you in a red slinky dress with silver sparkles, I in a blue velvet dress with black high heels—swaying to Tracy Chapman’s sad serenade, “Give Me One Reason,” while a boy streaks through the lobby in his Spiderman underwear, his father waving the boy’s khaki pants and shouting, “You can’t escape!” We meander over to the bar with its brassy table top and you lean over the clear empty glasses and fall in love with the band instantly. I watch mermaids with broken bodies swim down the wall. Two college roommates play chess in the corner. The potted plant in the window sill reminds me of Patti placing a “Just Divorced!” sign on her window at work. The branch manager served chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream that afternoon. I drank a glass of champagne and thought about how I don’t want to be Patti, all grown up with no place to go because she still has Benjamin, 7, and Laura, 12. I want to be here, with you, away from kids in Spiderman underwear, kids who eat like chipmunks and scream like banshees. I want to know you will never leave me three days before the baby’s due for a business trip, only to visit an old lover whose flame has not fanned out. I want to wake up to red begonias on the night stand, not a fire in the wishing well. I want to hold you, as you held me, sharing joy like a lollipop. As I think these things, my hand lingers on your wrist. You glance up at me with a weak smile. I squeeze, Are you okay?, into your hand. You lean over and whisper, “Remember that floral stationery I bought when we were ten? The one that said, ‘I wish you’d plant your tulips on mine’?” I nod, remembering, just as your lips press against my skin, branding a memory into my body (which is no longer mine) but yours.