Oh, Let There Be Nothing on Earth but Laundry


Oh, Let There Be Nothing on Earth but Laundry

(with gratitude to Richard Wilbur)

            When the wash cycle ends, the racket stops like boisterous children caught roughhousing in the parents’ room. With the round door open, it’s clear what the damp and twisted sleeves have been up to. I wrest the wet fabric from the mouth of the machine and pile the contrite and tangled mass of it into a basket, white and plastic.

I wear a pocket apron–pockets full of clothespins–recycled from worn jeans, whose strings are long enough to wrap behind my back and tie in the front. The basket conforms to my hip, a clever, if modestly sexist, design (when Greg carries the clothesbasket, he lifts with both hands, arms bent like a drummer on a snare). Basket on my hip, I pass from the house to the line behind the tractor shed. Not that I hide the laundry. I proudly leave clothes hanging when guests come (often they praise the impulse), although I sometimes curate the display for style. When cars pass on the road just above me and the driver looks down on my world, I feel virtuous, but not arrogantly so. I feel privileged I have the time and space.

Beyond the road, the wild hill rises, blocking the sun until mid-morning. In the sun, the power lines that connect our remote valley to civilization stretch like so many strands of laundry line, not so sightly, but necessary nonetheless.

Greg systematically hangs his clothes on one wire, mine on another, sheets in a monochromatic row. He talks to the dogs as they loaf in the sun. I make patterns with the dinner napkins and purposely comingle the underwear. I choose a color scheme for the row facing the passersby. He stopped complaining about my idiosyncratic non-systems years ago.

With the sheets cool on my shoulder, I watch the river, green and blue married with brown, and, against the green and brown. Snowy egrets, impossibly white, whiter than bleached blouses or the sycamore bark reflecting across the water, stand in defiance of the murky brown. And then all at once they fly. The morning air is all awash with angels.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                     Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;
    Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                             The soul shrinks
    From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
               “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”
    Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
    “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                      keeping their difficult balance.”

One response to “Oh, Let There Be Nothing on Earth but Laundry

  1. Intrigued by the numerous lines of laundry hanging many stories high up among the narrow, curvy, cobbled, and rarely kissed by sunshine streets of Naples. I’m glad to read how you enjoy an activity common around the world.

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