Tuesday, September 21, 2010

poetry in the laundromat

My friend just posted this video on "dirty jobs," thinking about the worth of work and our perception of manual labor. (It starts off talking about the castration of lambs, a unarguably dirty job, but he gets to the point, if you stick with it.)  It added to a journal entry I re-read last night as I'm packing away my books, sorting through what to keep, and a Mary Oliver poem that finds the beauty in everyday life. 

To the man in the laundromat calling out loudly to the owner, a wiry white guy whose faded jeans were too big for him, Hey, man, you need someone to sweep the floors? The owner continued uninterrupted, walking to the back, saying over his shoulder, Not right now but give me your info, you never know when we'll need someone. He was still walking as the first guy halfway followed him, Yeah, I could sweep, clean up - whatever you could pay me.

by Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible,
a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment
struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch as she stares
down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays,
as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from
the crust and the slop and fly down to the river
This probably won't happen
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic,
who would want it?

Of course, it isn't
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life.
I mean the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for me sake;
I mean the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

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