Domestic Labor Day


Monika Nguyen, house and swimsuitMonika Nguyen

 It’s Labor Day in the United States, when we celebrate the achievements of American workers! Some of them get a holiday from work today, while others are working away relentlessly (in retail sales, for instance). And still other hard workers, many who never get a “holiday” from their labors, work on dutifully in the home, as caregivers or domestic workers. Please pause for a moment to contemplate all the hard work that gets done in our country and everywhere in the world. And please pause to witness this parade of poems on domestic labor.

Bethany Reid 

I Could Love You That Way

The way a woman cleans house, tying her hair
in a kerchief, knocking down cobwebs

with a broom. All day gathering clothes
and toys and books from beneath the beds,

vacuuming under the couch cushions,
scrubbing the drains, polishing

the fixtures. I could love you that way,
methodically, thoroughly, offering my body

at day’s end as if it were a house,
as if it were only a place for you to lie down.

Monika Nguyen, house at night

Molly Spencer 

O my God, what am I / that these late mouths should cry open
–Sylvia Plath

Poem at the Kitchen Door

If she could see the clock she’d say, Five,
time to make dinner. Turn to the stove, turn

on the radio news, hear the day’s death count,
trim the meat. If the baby slept through the night,

if she were rested. But there are small tiles
of bone to be cut, then dulled

by a lifetime of chewing.
If her heart were pure enough.

But her heart’s all patchwork
and conflict, each chamber staunchly for itself.

If there were only one, or years between?
The way it never ends and then

they’re tired, crying for bed. If window,
if mirror, if she could say anything

she’d say, I’m not broken,
but stunned by these bodies

we made. Her very own flesh slipped
off and left hungering.

And where is the bread pan?
And what can she feed them that satisfies?

Monika Nguyen, kitchen at night, man outside

Susan Rich 

A Poem for Will, Baking

Each night he stands before
the kitchen island, begins again
from scratch: chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg,
he beats, he folds;
keeps faith in what happens
when you combine known quantities,
bake twelve minutes at a certain heat.
The other rabbis, the scholars,
teenagers idling by the beach,
they receive his offerings
in the early hours, share his grief.
It’s enough now, they say.
Each day more baked goods to friends,
and friends of friends, even
the neighborhood cops. He can’t stop,
holds on to the rhythmic opening
and closing of the oven,
the timer’s expectant ring.
I was just baking, he says if
someone comes by. Again and again,
evenings winter into spring,
he creates the most fragile
of confections: madelines
and pinwheels, pomegranate crisps
and blue florentines;
each crumb to reincarnate
a woman – a savoring
of what the living once could bring.

[from Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006)]

Monika Nguyen, house, kids, cow

Molly Spencer

“And the angel left her” (Luke 1:38)

Plan B

Call it an angel if you want. There’s always something
more to say yes to, the next routine piercing
of the heart by duty’s blade, as if it leaves you
any choice. By now, every night
I’m afraid I’ll pull back the sheets and find
a martyr in my bed. Baptism by fire, some girl-
saint who preferred death to doubt. Finally a No
to hold solid in my hands. I’m tired
of all the Yes. I am the handmaid
of the PTA, the patron saint
of the crock pot. I’m in the kitchen
with Martha, just now scolded
for making dinner so everyone can eat.
Just once, I want a story of a girl
who says no and lives to tell. You know
the one I’m talking about: here on this page
with the angel and his fierce hovering.
The way he tries to soothe her, says
everybody’s doing it even her cousin. Says
her son will be king. Just once,
I want to see the girl turn and run
for the orchard, jump the fence, climb high
in the tangled and ripening fruit
of her own life, taste
the plum’s sweet blood
on her mouth.

Please click on each poet’s name to see more of her work here at Escape Into Life. The art is by Monika Nguyen. Imagine the work that went into these photographs and poems! Imagine the work that went into designing and building these houses! Imagine the daily work inside every home. Thanks for everyone’s work!