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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 54-56
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Woman Ironing, and: Waiting Room, and: Brushes
Woman IroningBack, at last, where I belong: on this bench.
Back in front of Degas' "Woman Ironing,"
my washer woman steadfastly at work,
leaning close over a man's white dress shirt,
already the balm of her composure
beginning to soothe. Her flat iron steams
in the steamy room where bed linens hang –
ceiling to floor – before a wall of windows,
sheets still clinging to dreams and sheer curtains
billowing in the warm, cream-colored light.
A plump woman in a dark blue blouse,
ample rose apron – each press of her iron,
rhythmic and composing. How many blues
have been shaded throughout the man's shirts,
one set off to the side of her work table,
pressed and folded, those folds exact, and exact
the starch in its high collar. She reaches
for the next, though surely she must know
at the ballet this evening or the races
tomorrow afternoon, Monsieur's shirt
will barely make an impression, at best will
merely reappear as a smear of white paint. [End Page 54]
Waiting RoomThey must have been adding up – all the addling
portrait stares, Samurai swords, slashes of black
across stretched canvas. And the man I'm with
who won't leave a museum till he's read
every inscription. He's galleries behind
and we still have two levels to get through.
Yet as I come into this unfurnished room –
Chapter House from a Benedictine priory
not far from St. Germain du Bois – all that eases.
Here, the one place where those medieval monks
could speak – who was to do what for the week,
the year. Their lives like the limestone bricks
wedged into this vaulted Romanesque ceiling –
numbered, dismantled, transported, then reassembled
inside a new space in this city where Elizabeth
Bishop once waited for her Aunt Consuelo.
An enclosure, still ordering the lives
of anyone who enters. This empty room
where the I that I am is now coming back. [End Page 55]
BrushesIn China, the first were made for writers –
rabbit hair wrapped round with the hair
of deer and sheep. Ogishi demanded
feelers from around the rat's nose
and hairs from the kingfisher's beak.
The early handles were mulberry stems.
Soon, official documents could be written
only by scribes holding red lacquer handles.
By the time ivory was required,
writers kept them in gold jeweled boxes.
They say it took fifteen years to master
how to hold one. Even children at play
with their chopsticks, trying to pick up
just one grain of rice, were learning the art
of longing – that implement the only
ferry now to the other side of desire.