Judith Malina

Every One of the Cleaning Women

from Love & Politics: Poems by Judith Malina (Black & Red 2001) P.O. Box 02374, Detroit MI 48202, $6. Also available from The Barn; See p. 55 for address.

Dreamt of something else

When she was seventeen.

They smile, they joke, they sigh,

In their smocks and comfy shoes--

They try not to recall the plans

For a miracle or a marriage...

Of the schemes that each of them made

With their young man

In the marriage bed,

Of a house in the fields,

Or a store in the city...

Now they are widowed or worn,

The man drunk, or dead, or departed,

Or unable to make ends meet.

Every one of the cleaning women

Hoped that the prince would come

And rescue her from the pail and the wringer.

The fairy tale promised

That the girl who sat by the cinders

Was to be clothed in splendor

And inherit the kingdom...

Slowly the dream wore down.

When I was eighteen and worked

In the laundry counting

The dirty wash, I dreamed

That the prince would come.

And he came. And that my talent and ardor

Would rescue me from listing:

Five napkins--eight pieces underwear--

Rescue, and lead to a privileged life.

And I was the fortunate one,

Leading a privileged life--rescued

From smock and broom, and now my friends

Ask me why I’m so sad

When I see the cleaning women

Laughing as if it were nothing.

“You and your Jewish guilt...”

“But somebody has to do it...”

But every one of the cleaning women

Dreamed that it wouldn’t be she.


Fifth Estate #370, Fall 2005