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 up the wooden pegs one by one
adrift in a cotton trance.

The back yards are a harbor 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.
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 Annas, Mud Season (Cervena Barva Press, 2011)


Letter to Dad from New Danville, 1998

When I can no longer stand to read
or write in any chair in the house,
I bank the fire and head out
into the night, slither
between electric fence lines
and climb a ridge where you can see lights
from Lancaster city all the way
to the black Susquehanna.
I lie down there under Orion's belt
until snow melts through my hair
to the back of my neck. This is the best
thing you ever taught me: to stop
and stretch out under tree limbs or clouds.
I almost forgot how good a pasture feels
beneath a sore back. And these evil days
when you can't say who'll sign your check
or for how long, as friends of thirty years
get canned or quit or just turn silent,
you must walk out onto that smooth swath
of Westinghouse lawn and lie down. Think
how the sky will open above you. Think
how the ground will hold you as it
always has, as it certainly will until
it takes you once and for all.

:: Julia Kasdorf, in Witness 12:2, 1998


Water Story

I love the living sound of my plant when I water it,
the hiss and suck of agua
pulled through the soil by gravity,
the sweat that appears on the clay pot,
the unwrinkling of the leaves.
I had a patient once, pregnant mother
morning sick and evening sick, who arrived
hauling her children, carrying her bucket.
We slipped a needle in her vein,
dripped saline into her body's dry core
and, right before me, the woman
plumped up. My ivy overflows--
a thread of water and fertilizer returns to earth
through the sink mouth. I am happy
that all life is circular. Seven months later,
the woman's chubby boy popped out, head first.
Blood and water flooded the catch basin, spilled over.
I carry this story on my white shoes.

:: Cortney Davis, in Prairie Schooner (1999)


The Seamstress

When she thinks of what is the one constant
   in her life, she thinks of the stitch. The way
the needle punctures the cloth and sets

the thread. She remembers, when she saw
   the Singer machine at her grandmother's
house, the woman with the cloudy eyes,

the black gap in her mouth, the woman who
   told stories of the witches by the bridge,
of the specters by the side of country roads

who suckled on the blood of humans, of serpents
   who swallowed whole sugar cane cutters asleep
under the shade of the framboyans and mameys,

the woman whose face appears in the wrinkles
   of the material she now sews together. She
loves the hum and vibrations of the machine's

motor, making the stitching the constant clatter
   much like the sound of the women of her childhood
beating and cleaning the rice in the hot morning

sun. She is alone now, the mother of a child
   grown and gone from home, married with
children of his own. She is here in Hialeah,

alone in the three-bedroom apartment her late
   husband, three months in the grave, worked
alongside her, so hard for. They came to Los

Angeles in 1974, and from that beginning
   the constant she depended on was the sound
of an overlap machine stitching zippers to denim

pants, piecemeal, piecemeal--the pay never
   going higher than ten cents per piece. What comfort
is the sound of this machine her husband bought

for her. He knew what sewing means to her,
   the kind of disappearance involved into her
childhood. Here she is, a widow, far from her

country of birth, far from her sisters and brothers.
   Her father still alive, her mother in the ground,
and quite suddenly she feels the urge to laugh,

laugh at how time weaves itself into the intricacies
   of the spirit, of the heart--she is planning a return
to the island of her birth, but first she will finish

this dress for her oldest granddaughter, a child
   born in this country, speaking no other language
than the language of her birth place. What joy

the fabric, the lace as it moves under her fingers, 
   the dress almost finished, she will wear it, become
the child in the photos, travel back to her country,

go through the empty rooms of an empty house,
   feel the heat of her birth place, hear the cries
of a child about to be born in 1938, San Pablo, Cuba.

:: Virgil Suarez, in Witness 12:2, 1998