Road Stop

Not all laundromats are sad.
Back in the Village, the one I frequented
was a place to read and watch what women
turn on the delicate cycle for.
I was younger then and wanted to live
in a city, and count myself among
the fashionably poor. Now these women
at the Wash 'N Dry, fingering their coins
in this terrible brightness, just seemed tired.
Maybe all the women back on Bank Street
were tired; I wouldn't have noticed.
Maybe all women everywhere are tired
and even the loveliest, flimsy things
sometimes feel like burdens to take off--
late at night, say, in the wrong mood,
and someone waiting with a smile.
Today these machines look like
the secured masks of deep-sea divers,
and what swirls in them is controlled
confusion, which each of us understands.
I mix my whites and darks together,
as I always do, and a young woman
with a child and a Live Free or Die 
T-shirt says No, that's bad.
I tell her I'm interested in speed.
I don't say I've a house
with a washing and drying room, or
my clothes are old enough not to bleed.
Nor do I say I haven't been
to a laundromat in twenty years.
This could be a bus station
the way the solitary faces stare, but she
has a child to scold, no time to stare.
I'm far from home. There's no telling
how I look to those who look so hard
or what, to them, my laundry reveals.
Here's a clean man, they could be thinking.
He must have done something wrong.

:: Stephen Dunn, Loosestrife (1996)


Night Waitress

Reflected in the plate glass, the pies
look like clouds drifting off my shoulder.
I'm telling myself my face has character,
not beauty. It's my mother's Slavic face.
She washed the floor on hands and knees
below the Black Madonna, praying
to her god of sorrows and visions
who's not here tonight when I lay out the plates,
small planets, the cups and moons of saucers.
At this hour the men all look
as if they'd never had mothers.
They do not see me. I bring the cups.
I bring the silver. There's the man
who leans over the jukebox nightly
pressing the combinations
of numbers. I would not stop him
if he touched me, but it's only songs
of risky love he leans into. The cook sings
with the jukebox, a moan and sizzle
into the grill. On his forehead
a tattooed cross furrows,
diminished when he frowns. He sings words
dragged up from the bottom of his his lungs.
I want a song that rolls
through the night like a big Cadillac
past factories to the refineries
squatting on the bay, round and shiny
as the coffee urn warming my palm.
Sometimes when coffee cruises my mind
visiting the most remote way stations,
I think of my room as a calm arrival,
each book and lamp in its place. The calendar
on my wall predicts no disaster
only another white square waiting
to be filled like the desire that fills
jail cells, the old arrest
that makes me stare out the window or want
to try every bar down the street.
When I walk out of here in the morning
my mouth is bitter with sleeplessness.
Men surge to the factories and I'm too tired
to look. Fingers grip lunch box handles,
belt buckles gleam, wind riffles my uniform
and it's not romantic when the sun unlids
the end of the avenue. I'm fading
in the morning's insinuations
collecting on the crevices of buildings,
in wrinkles, in every fault
of this frail machinery.

:: Lynda Hull, Ghost Money (1986)


The Napper

Strange to assume this half-forgotten
posture: the skull's weight resting
on crossed arms tingling with sleep

the body's pose invites while mind
refuses to accept. An opened can
of soda ticks at his ear. A button's

pressed its small circumference into
his left temple. Glasses folded neatly
beside a stack of charts that must

be read, but not now. Now
he'll close his eyes, think suddenly
of milk in half-pint cartons,

puddles beneath piled galoshes.
His body remembers. Faint
elevator sounds, passing steps

slip beneath the closed door.
Phone is off the hook. The secretary
has instructions. He lets his mouth

go slack, his arms go numb. He holds
his eyes closed tight. He could
be five again. He could be anyone.

:: Ron Mohring, Beneficence (2003)


My Father Washing Dishes

For fifty years he stood at his job
growing a small pension and varicose veins
that still ache when he walks

Yet he refuses to get a dishwasher
to save his back and legs: it was for her sake
he stood    and ours

Nothing has changed    He leans
against the sink    bends his stiff back
over the suds

She had cooked for him for almost sixty years
had been a partner of the first water: loyal
loving    a constant friend    and a gypsy

on the dance floor where his legs felt young
despite the pain    And so he stands and scrubs
each cup and plate    the frying pan    each fork

while the hot water pours from the tap like music.

:: Charles Fishman, Country of Memory (2004)