Camptown Races

At the iron sink I divide
garbage: cobs for chickens
husks for compost

chore the fugitive
daughter of a grim ancestress
ditched in favor of

the Lowell mills (12 hours
a day 6 days a week 18 cents an hour)
better than her home prospects

once the solemnly composed Union
officer bared
his dusty head and delivered
bones swaddled like an unlovely infant

or diaries or nothing. Preferring rupture
to the role of family servant
rude to the consoling preacher

this willowy forget-me-not
spectre of a woman quit

milking slopping spinning
canning fragrant hot
berries shiny as forbidden
lipstick and removed

furtively, like a convict, a few eggs
in her apron, no shoes
or worn shoes pinching
each mile

to a hostel
with her own kind (and wrote
to Aunt Tillie Eustacia Dennett:
"I work for wages not bread")

stared at the piano roiling the parlor:
Camptown Races (racy, naughty)
Oh Promise Me
Billy Willy Kissme Again
sometimes Moonlight Sonata

though skin from her fingers
peeling with lye soap remains
between wide, valuable planks
I pace, casting entrails before

and applecores behind, in her
uncivil revolutionary shadow.

:: Joyce Peseroff, in The American Voice #29 (1992)

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