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Sunday at the York Street Laundromat
The first in a short series of poems
from the fountain pen of Nicola Donaven
The duenna at the door flicks her eyes up and drops them down
to her Penelopean task of crocheting
another baby blanket, a different color each week
but always a granny square grown huge.
Her face is a map of defeat,
and every long Sunday is the same.

Down the row of scratched almond Speed Queens,
people stand guard over their machines,
hovering like gardeners over new seedlings.
They know the alchemy of that mysterious turning cave,
and wait to add bleach at just the right moment,
like an altar boy assisting at Mass.

I was raised heathen, so I just pour the clammy ooze of detergent in
and let the divine mysteries happen,
soap and water fighting the evil of dirt and jelly, red paint and grease,
to bring me the damp and vanquished foe of clean clothes.
We used to gather at the river to pound out the demons of dirt,
singing and scrubbing and pounding. Hard work but sweet.

Now we stand in this terribly public space, each load remaining private,
no one speaking, the only music the rumble of the machines.
It's easier this way, the clean loneliness of the laundromat.
Old men delicately look away from the vast billows
of underwear, the knowledge of the last barrier before my flesh.

In our neighboring silences,
we desperately clutch our carts to us;
maybe that's all we have to hold on to.
We move our sodden clothes to the hellish maw of the dryers
and watch the great mirror-eyes as our clothes tumble like runes,
hypnotized by the fates they predict.

No two people will fold the same way.
One young man folds with delicate precision,
knotty hands an unconscious ballet
crossing sleeve to sleeve, seam to seam.
The old men who look away from the tragedy of underwear
shove their clothes in a plastic bag, like they can't leave fast enough.

Every poor neighborhood needs a laundromat.
Now that our lives and laundries are solitary,
this is where we gather to perform our ablutions,
The incense of the sweet detergent
lifting us out of our mundane task
into an unexpected clean and shining prayer.

Nicola J. Donaven
Copyright 2001, all rights reserved

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