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

oppression.

 

from Transatlantic by Walter Holland © 2001

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