The city had such pretty clotheslines.
Women aired their intimate apparel
in the emery haze:
membranes of lingerie-
pearl, ruby, copper slips-
their somehow intestinal quivering in the wind.
And Freihofer's spread the chaste, apron scent
of baking, a sensual net
over a few yards of North Troy.
The city had Niagara
Mohawk bearing down with power and light
and members of the Local
shifting on the line.
They worked on fabrics made from wood and acid,
synthetics that won't vent.
They pieced the tropics into housecoats
when big prints were the rage.
Dacron gardens twisted on the line
over lots of Queen Anne's lace.
Sackdresses dyed the sun
as sun passed through, making a brash stained glass
against the leading of the tenements,
the warehouse holding medical supplies.
I waited for my bus by that window of trusses
in Caucasian beige, trying to forget
the pathological inside.
I was thinking of being alive.
I was waiting to open
the amber envelopes of mail at home.
Just as food service workers, counter women,
maybe my Aunt Fran, waited to undo
their perms from the delicate insect meshes
required by The Board of Health.
Aunt Alice wasn't on this route.
She made brushes and plastics at Tek Hughes-
mild crates of orange
the cartons could drip through.
Once we boarded, the girls from Behr-Manning
put their veins up
and sawed their nails to dust
on files from the plant.
All day, they made abrasives. Garnet paper.
Yes, and rags covered with crushed gems called
It was dusk-when aunts and mothers formed
their larval curls
and wrapped their heads in thick brown webs.
It was yesterday-twenty years after
my father's death,
I found something he had kept.
A packet of lightning-
cut sanding discs, still sealed.
I guess he meant to open the finish,
strip the paint stalled on some grain
and groom the primal gold.
The discs are the rough size
of those cookies the franchises call Homestyle
and label Best Before.
The old cellophane was tough.
But I ripped until I touched
their harsh done crust.
From SENSUAL MATH (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)