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Afternoon, Virginia, 1957

(for Emma Smith)


In a haze of white, the steam rose

from its iron


always at afternoon in front of the screen

Emma’s incessant staring


at the daytime dramas, the melodramatic

love and perfidy, the unrequited claims.


Strange that none of what she viewed

was real — made in her own image —


I could see that, understand, just as I

watched her hands move back and forth


diligently smoothing out each crease,

whites, then colors, the repetition of


setting things apart. Each wrinkle,

each seam pressed clean by that monotony


— her job, dutifully preparing

what others would inspect. Watching


that circular world, those quick

asides and secrets, she knew


everything, but had no part. Removed yet

concentrated, she heard the snowy


faces speak, as though what I’d seen

of fire, riot and police


affected her not in the least.

Crease by crease


she made her way through the duteous

chores, while in the corner I played, watching,


wondering, too, the extent of our



from Transatlantic by Walter Holland © 2001

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