“I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” ~ Tillie Olsen, from “I Stand Here Ironing”

Edgar Degas Woman Ironing c1876-87 oil on canvas
“Woman Ironing” (c1876-87, oil on canvas)
by Edgar Degas

                   

You’ve heard of something being as boring as watching paint peel? How about being as boring as ironing a shirt? Yep. Ironing a shirt. The pure mundane nature of this video kind of represents my daily goal at the moment: to keep things as mundane as possible, else I become overwhelmed by it all . . . that and it’s pretty cool to see how someone actually achieves all of those creases, not to mention it reminds me of the days I used to iron Corey’s Coast Guard shirts with the required seven creases, two in the front, three in the back and one on each sleeve, which reminds me of one of my all-time favorite short stories: “I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen, which is where I got the name Tillie for our labrador. That’s one big heap of memories all from a man ironing a shirt, which just goes to show that no matter how hard you try to keep things simple, you can’t . . .

                   

Ironing Their Clothes

With a hot glide up, then down, his shirts,
I ironed out my father’s back, cramped
and worried with work. I stroked the yoke,
the breast pocket, collar and cuffs,
until the rumpled heap relaxed into the shape
of my father’s broad chest, the shoulders shrugged off
the world, the collapsed arms spread for a hug.
And if there’d been a face above the buttondown neck,
I wold have pressed the forehead out, I would
have made a boy again out of that tired man!

If I clung to her skirt as she sorted the wash
or put out a line, my mother frowned,
a crease down each side of her mouth.
this is no time for love! But here
I could linger over her wrinkled bedjacket,
with the hot tip. Here i caressed complications
of darts, scallops, ties pleats which made
her outfits test of the patience of my passion.
Here I could lay my dreaming iron on her lap…

The smell of baked cotton rose from the board
and blew with a breeze out of the window
to the family wardrobe drying on the clothesline,
all needing a touch of my iron. Here I could tickle
the underarms of my big sister’s petticoat
or secretly pat the backside of her pajamas.
For she too would have warned me not to muss
her fresh blouses, starched jumpers, and smocks,
all that my careful hand had ironed out,
forced to express my excess love on cloth.

~ Julia Alvarez

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“Only now and then the lines attack like birds of prey, any time, any place. And demand to be written.” ~ Anna Kamienska, from “A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook”

“Le Viol Detail la Domestique” (1869)
Edgar Degas

Trying to get the shower invitations done, and it is not going well. Offering up someone else who does it much better than I . . .

Selections from “A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook”
Storks, study, and solitude in a fading life.

Anna Kamienska

I now exist on the principle of shortsightedness, which demands enhanced attention to the moment. Late wisdom, but close to the wisdom of childhood. A lovely summer day. Color, taste, scent. A squirrel. Cherries. Good tiredness. Cauliflower for supper. Clean house. And always darkness, darkness that spreads around all of it. Everything submerged in awful darkness.

*****

The inscription rings with a poetry much older than its date.

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I escape into sleep. Sleep is what I’ll miss most when I die.

*****

I’ve learned to value failed conversations, missed connections, confusions. What remains is what’s unsaid, what’s underneath. Understanding on another level of being.

*****

The sun came out today. But I still ache all over. It made me think of Waclaw Gralewski’s theory: every tumble, bruise, broken leg or arm is the price for disrupting some hidden order. Instant punishment.

*****

I have no talent. I’m not talking about the literary marketplace: I mean how I see myself. I write poems for myself, like these notebooks, to think things through, that’s all.

*****

The soul has two distinct layers. One is the “I”—capricious, fickle, uncertain, it hops from joy to despair. The other, the “soul,” is steady, sure, unwavering, watchful, ready, aware.

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I received the grace of shadows. The grace of remaining in the dark.

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In the human world everything is mixed. No pure states. Even death is life in some sense. Archaeology—eschatology?

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I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.

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Deafness has seized even my dreams. They’re voiceless, like silent movies. Or when the machine breaks in the theater and the audience suddenly starts stomping.

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We recognize things, as in poetry, through resemblances. Through metaphors. This way we gather them into wider systems so that they don’t dangle alone.

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Never. Never. Never. I could fill a whole notebook with that word.

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I returned
to confirm
there can be no return.

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To hide from old age. To crawl into a crack in the floor.

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Sorrow—that’s the noblest thing linking us to animals. The sorrow of existence.

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When I woke up this morning, I didn’t have a face. Just a mask of pain. I wanted to be more than a mother, I wanted to be a friend. But the director calls us to order. You don’t get to pick the role.

*****

During the sleepless hours of the night a thought came to me that seemed important. I got up in the dark and wrote it down. In the morning I read: “I went looking for loneliness. But it found me.”

*****

Letters of the condemned. Last words scratched on a cell’s wall. To write like that.

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Niobe. Niobe—that’s me. That’s every abandoned mother.

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This morning I suddenly catch myself: I’m not there, I’m so lost in thought, I don’t know what’s going on around me. Can you think yourself to death?

*****

Where your pain is, there your heart lies also.