Order began under the cellar clothesline
where she shook each spun article
once, clipped it to rafter-strung rope.
All winter the bellowing furnace
let out its roar, its wooly breath.
My father didn't believe
in tumble dryers, and Mother, washing
for nine, hung each day's eighteen socks
with a frown. Here was a lesson
for six daughters, where sorting began,
the sets and subsets—
pants, underpants, underground.
First March morning hinting sun
she trudged loads
up the unforgiving stairwell
to wires stretched above winter's wrung grass.
Never like that, she would gesture
south to neighboring lines
where nameless clothing dried
clumped, haphazard wads.
And never leave it out after dark.
My father's bleached shirts billowed an absence
his hovering death would embody, rumor
of cumulonimbus on the horizon,
The new appliance, bumped down the back steps
by my brother, vented for all eternity
to the elements, was feeble consolation.
(Appeared in Poets West, 1998.)