Lining Out by Darnell Arnault

I wrote a poem while I hung out clothes
this morning, but it left me.
My dryer’s broken. I resort to the old ways,
outlawed now in fancy housing developments.
In the outlands, I sometimes see these young
girls’ clothing hanging haphazard as their lives,
artless. No apprenticeship, only hard recourse
to troubled choices, their backless bloomers
flipping in the spring breeze for everyone to see.
That’s not how it’s done. Big things hang
on the ends and on the outside: sheets and towels
and bedspreads where the line’s highest. Like my
grandmother’s line, mine could stand some
maintenance. A lost art, hanging clothes. Too domestic
for poetry, some man once told me.
All whites go together. Colors hang separately.
Don’t hang shirts by the shoulders. Pray for
sun on Mondays. Iron on Tuesdays.
The time my slow flawless hand went in the ringer
Granny’s hand darted across the air like a snake.
The way she hit the release scared me to death.
We carried wash up from the basement
in bright scarred metal dishpans to four slick bleached
white ropes waiting there like a skeleton holding
out for muscle. We hung and slapped straight
and pinched our sweet work in the shape of
our lives and waited for the sun to dry.

from the southern poetry anthology vol. vi tn
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