Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Doing the Laundry

In many cultures, every day is laundry day, because there aren't enough clothes in the wardrobe to afford the luxury of parceling it out. What's more, getting clothes clean is just as physical an act as those that got them dirty. Today's poem elaborates these ideas beautifully--ennobling both chore and the handwork that it sustains.


The street stretches its back.
Its spine cracks with satisfaction.

There’s no bustle, no sense of rush,
just the determined slip and slap
of soap on slate
and cloth on stone,
morning light thrashed out
on the wet step
above the water tank.

Her arm an arc, her haunch
pushed back,
the whole length of sari
Legs apart, she attacks the sweat of yesterday,
the cooking smells,
the dribble from the baby’s mouth,
drives them out
of thin and daily thinning cloth.

Today she wears the purple,
washes green,
tosses it out to dry,
smacks it down across the stones
like an accomplishment
of fine clean weave.

Imtiaz Dharker

poem from the anthology Out of Fashion, by Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Faber and Faber, 2004


  1. Makes the mundane sound curiously magical. Have you ever visited the Dhobi Ghat laundry in Mumbai? Even the men get involved in doing the laundry...

  2. no, susan, have never been to India, but it's on the list . . . must write about saris sometime . . . xC