For many of us, laundry is an inescapable consequence of wearing clothes. Wash and wear always has seemed reversed to me, or at the least, mid-cycle. It’s more likely repeated day after day, wear and wash and wear. . . Those who successfully mark a single day of the week for laundry chores clearly do not live in my house, but they have my undying respect.
In honor of the Managing Editor’s laundry photo being featured in the upcoming issue of Scratch Magazine, we’re featuring 10 great laundry poems today, and giving away a subscription to Scratch (a gift to the Managing Editor for her photo, but she already subscribes to this excellent magazine). Check out the giveaway details at the end of the post.
For now, take a break from your laundry hanging, or ironing, or presoaking, and enjoy this neatly folded basket of laundry poems.
The Short and Long of It
Inside of this measuring stick called a line
is the breath of your poem.
See, how you breathe in
your best-washed thoughts at the end
or beginning of letters strung
on a clothesline of air.
The bigger inhale is a stanza,
a crisp paragraph of words,
thoughts stacked as neat as laundry,
folded, ready to wear,
just waiting for you
to say them.
—Marjorie Maddox Hafer
Silken web undulates,
a lady’s private wash
upon the wind.
— L.L. Barkat
feels like a day
to unplug the dryer
laundry on the line
in the back yard
next to the busy street
where all the truckers
and school kids
but i don’t
have a clothes line.
The cure for writer’s block is laundry.
Cram both arms with dirty clothes and
stuff them in the washer.
Brim the detergent, vinegar, bleach, if you dare.
Sit back down.
Write a bit more.
In thirty minutes or an hour, the dinger will ding.
Heap the wet mess into the dryer,
The dryer is already packed because you forgot
to fold the last load. Divest the dryer.
Fold the clean clothes, arranging them into piles:
one for him, with you beside him (where you always are),
one for the son, one for the daughter —
the closest they will ever be is these towering piles
of bras, boxers, T-shirts, jeans, uniforms.
Now the dryer is void. Fill it.
Sit down again.
When the dinger dings, ignore it.
Forget to clear the dryer.
— Megan Willome
A Thing for Laundry Chutes
If you wait
where the dark-lined space
travels through the house I find
I will send you love
from the top—
little black things with hooks
— L.L. Barkat
Ode to a Ratty Tee Shirt
Every Friday, after the laundry,
there you are, folded next to
clean socks, crisp shirts, and
respectable pleated pants.
Before the end of the day, you decorate his
body like lights on a sad Christmas tree:
haphazardly placed, half burned out,
dangling loosely. His little hairs peep out
from the great beyond of the armpit, through
the giant hole to see what excitement
the night holds.
It’s like waiting on a visitor you know
is coming, keeping an ear out for that
knock on the door as you continue
to tidy the kitchen, rinse the last dish
clean, wipe the counter, pick that crumb
up off the floor. You keep glancing
across the room for one more thing
you can do to make things ready. Make
a cup of tea so you can wash the spoon.
Wonder why you made tea when you
don’t want it. Drink the tea because
you made it. It shouldn’t go to waste.
There’s no good reason for it to go to
waste. You shouldn’t have made tea if
you were going to waste it. Why did
you make tea? It doesn’t matter. It’s cold.
Pour the last of it down the sink. Wash
the cup. Wipe the counter. Find another
crumb. Sweep the floor. Sweep the floor.
When was the last time anybody swept
this floor? And what about laundry? Yes,
a good idea, the laundry. Now: take off
your clothes so there’s something to wash.
—Paula J. Lambert
Sounds like a bearing’s going
bad, the serviceman says,
but he’s just here to empty
from the washer pump,
to the disenchanting
He could fix it, he supposed,
but may as well bear with
until it breaks.
anything, after all,
and before long
you won’t even notice
I wanted to talk about Coleridge
who was anything but handsome
and was always leaving Sara his wife
to walk amazing distances
for conversations with his pals:
Poole, Lamb, Wordsworth et al.
I said, so what if the Pantisocratic
ideal was just another hippie
utopia where everyone labored by hand
in the morning and studied or wrote
in the afternoon? So what if the project
conceived in poverty went down
in unexpected endowments,
the Lannans and MacArthurs of their day?
I wanted to read about laudanum:
how many drops at bedtime and
did he add them to water or tea
or something stronger.
When I closed my book I fell
asleep as instantly as if I’d downed
50 drops in two fingers of scotch straight up.
In my dreams this poem was given
a communion wafer
and a blood transfusion.
I woke with baked cotton on my tongue.
My pulse was vigorous, my heart
was with Sara, the mountain
of laundry, her always absent Coleridge.
Domesticity and migraines,
miles and miles on foot.
— Maxine Kumin
Wash some dirty dishes
Gather up rumpled clothes
Diaper a soft pink bottom
Change the sheets
Pluck a few stray eyebrows
Feed hungry mouths
Drink some black tea
Pick crumbs off the couch
Change the batteries
Read Moo Baa La La La again
Wander room to room
Barely balance an account
Shampoo little brown curls
Pass out vitamins
Write a couple lines of code
Kiss husband hello or goodbye
Scribble a grocery list
Sweep up dried playdough chunks
Empty the dishwasher
Fold warm scented laundry
Brush sixty-eight teeth
Type a blog post
Lay my head down
Whisper a prayer
Get one day closer
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland