les serpillieres
by Marilyn Hacker

To my upstairs writing-table, to hers downstairs:
crash of the long plank shelf above the stove.

The casserole voided its simmering poule
au pot
, spending its juices on the tiles.

A jar of capers broke, a jar of curry, a jar of honey.
The kitchen flags reeked: some exotic stew.

She in her loose blue jumper, I in my loose blue shorts
stood, horrified, outside the kitchen doorway,

then she scooped the chicken into the pot;
I dived under the sink for serpillieres:

squares of soap-roughened cotton fiber, one apiece.
Scouring the corners of our refractory

we gathered honey shards of broken glass,
scooped up mounds of capers, herbs and honey.

"Les serpillieres!  My unlamented marriage!
How he loved to see me on my knees!"

My mother never called them "serpillieres"
but for hours, after work, she scrubbed the floors with them.

"If I’d been alone when that thing came down
I’d have sat on the flour with it and cried!"

I would have, too—but neither of us were."
One at the lavabo, one at the kitchen basin,

we each washed and wrung a serpilliere,
hung them on the line outside to dry.

      reprinted from Going Back to the River

Marilyn Hacker is the author of nine books, including Presentation Piece, which received the National Book Award in 1975, Winter Numbers, which received a Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Award of The Nation magazine and the Academy of American Poets, both in 1995, and the verse novel, Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons. Her Selected Poems was awarded the Poets’ Prize in 1996. Going Back to the River received a Lambda Literary Award in 1991. Her most recent book, Squares and Courtyards, was published by W.W. Norton in 2000. Her translations of Claire Malroux and of Vénus Khoury-Ghata have appeared or will appear in book form from Wake Forest University Press, Sheep Meadow Press, and Oberlin University Press, as well as in many American and British journals. She lives in New York and Paris, and is director of the M.A. program in English literature and creative writing at the City College of New York.


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