Irish Woman Washing Poem
Before the mirror of a cement toilet in a trailer park at Doolin
She undresses to the waist, plugs the sink, fills it from alternate taps.
She splashes water under her arms, lathers soap between her palms.
I watch her back arc as she bends, her breasts fall, convex—
Two clouds watching from the sky.
The backs of her legs tense when a stream of cold water trickles down her belly.
She glances up, pulls a washcloth between her legs, rubs her crotch;
Finished, she checks her face for blemishes.
This is the way women have washed for centuries.
This is the way, in a Degas pastel—
Light catching on the curve of a back,
A rainbow lying in a pool at the feet
The toe dried carefully—the hair tied in a knot—
Combed from the roots.
All of us lined up—cow-eyed, sleepy, hungry at the sink—
Mild, fiery girls, not yet knowing that in a moment the world will, change—
In the cold early morning air, half an hour, alone.
first published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, vol. 47, no. 3, Spring 1997