Two Poems by Joyce Compton Brown
After Degas, "Woman Ironing"
There is satisfaction in pressing
metal iron downward
against damp cuff, working
it dry—the angular arm,
the circular motion.
Degas must have seen that power
in the faces at work—the jutting elbow,
the firm black wedge wielded over
white collared shirts,
ruffled billowing skirts.
His artist’s eye caught the motion,
the beauty of shifted hip, bent-back press,
billowing pastel, All else secondary—
the laundry stench and heat, the endless piles
of blouse and skirt, the pallor of lives.
I remember the touch of chilled blue cloth,
the sacks of shirts, strength of hand and arm,
that certain twist—push and press toward rebirth
of rumpled wad and crease
into stiffened collar and sleeve—
then the flattened expanse, smoothed
for badge and tie, readied
with wriggle and point,
the sizzle of blade
commanding the cloth—
A cosmos of servitude, from ancient
laundries to housewives and hired help—
all bearing secret power in hot irons on hardened
surfaces, dampened shirts— the weight
of transfiguration in starch-stiff hands.