Portrait of My Mother Ironing

— Renee Schell

Before ironing my father’s shirts,
my mother dips her fingers
into the stainless steel bowl
as if it held holy water to sanctify the cotton.
She guides the hot surface of the iron between buttons,
pressing out her worries in the humid heat.
She sets the iron upright, adjusts the shirt, shifts her weight.
Strange, she reflects, that ironing a man’s shirt should be women’s work.
She hangs the shirt over wire shoulders smooth and narrow,
and fastens the top button.
Like oversized triangles, the waiting hangers dangle from their hook,
innocent and musical until muffled by fabric.
My ten-year-old eyes watch, calmed by her movements, learning the task.
But pictures in magazines crack that calm like glass.
Secretly they show me other hangers, expose other uses.
On the radio, on TV the odd words confront me again
with their pleasant and summery ring.
I am Roe v. Wading into too deep water,
but my mother’s look tells me not to ask.
Later, I know:
A piece of wire like the one that gave shape to my father’s shirt
scraped the unwanted alloy of cells from an internal muscle wall.

Now that hanger lies unchanged in a landfill near the freeway,
its final resting place.
Steel never dies, never decomposes, never bleeds to death.
But my mother, ironing in the early nineteen-seventies,
knows nothing of that hanger’s fate,
will never hear of the girl whose life it changed.
She sets the iron upright again, a briefcase tilted
on edge as the judges leave the courtroom.
All rise.
She smoothes her hand across the gentle movement in her belly,
drapes the final hanger with the final shirt
the color of justice,
or a righteous blue sky,
and unplugs the iron.

One thought on “Portrait of My Mother Ironing

  1. Thank you so much for your comments and for understanding where the poem is coming from. I feel like my poems are truly understood and appreciated at the WG readings. Thank you! 🙂

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