All-Purpose Poem with Stain Remover

By Judith Sanders

Have been trying to write this since yesterday

But this morning couldn’t stand the spit specks on bathroom mirror but en route to
Windex decided would just empty laundry basket since sheets already folded, just
stick in linen closet, but no had to stack neatly because what if I die and someone

But some not folded so put directly on bed stretch out crumples so strip old sheets must
spray stains wash this blanket too looking grayish will get to desk soon

after detour to carry dirty sheets blanket down to basement oops a load wrinkling in dryer
so will just hang shirts lay rest out flat but

also that heap of bathing suits, sandy damp from last week’s vacation, can’t postpone, so
will just toss in machine gentle cycle, still not late, will get to desk in a few

but haven’t eaten

and am stuck in dream about school where used to teach where belong now behind desk
or sink can’t stop for existential questions, a bowl of flakes a cup of tea out in
fresh air clear head with bad news and comics, must keep informed,

but on the porch doves who’ve been nesting have flown, was fun watching chicks fledge
better mop off bird poop before hot rainy this afternoon but neighbors’ cat had
been on patrol so cushions are covered with hair husband’s allergic, better wash
so must move bathing suits out of the washer hang on clothesline, how wash
cushions, choose delicate-low agitation sounds like personality type possibly mine
hang them to dry over back fence before rain maybe can put joke about wash
cycle in poem

if I ever get to it, because now son needs a ride to internship registering voters but no he
hasn’t finished toast so stand around rattling car keys have ten minutes, not
enough time to settle at desk, so sort laundry a washcloth needs presoak remove
mysterious goo now he’s ready but roadwork so takes forever but we chat about
election his friends though he teenager still half asleep so

when I do get out to mop a passing neighbor hello, a novelist with not one but two kids
two porches two dogs, don’t know how she concentrates I complain she says, wait
till he’s back at college, meanwhile just enjoy him she’s right of course though
that wasn’t it perhaps did not complain accurately about First World problem but

when go in get bleach will it harm tile should google how mop bird poop off porch,
becoming an expert on forms of, spatters vs. pellets, but husband says call
Vanguard find out about TOD on your mother’s account but can’t get right
number so that takes a few tries then lunchtime he wants to list things to do could
I please read over his new syllabus the roofers are coming they’ll need the outside
tap so unscrew sprinkler hoses coil stow in the garage muddy so where’s old

mid afternoon I’m finally headed to my desk on third floor but laptop isn’t there oh f—k
back down by front door took to café yesterday to get away from all this go where
the air-conditioning doesn’t smell like mold  should I clean the unit unscrew all
those screws some rusty or call a repair guy check Angie’s List how much costs,
so back down to first floor but forget power cord was distracted thought of a good
line to put in poem so down again but forget the line

finally get to my desk should resist checking email but a message how contest denied
dental claim so answer before expires before getting to my poem but must collect
paperwork back downstairs so try calling but stuck in phone tree must enter
dentist’s TIN what the hell’s that so hang up print snail-mail form with TIN blank
hope doesn’t invalidate better sign up online for car maintenance due end of month
but password doesn’t work so have to reset but email to link never comes.

So I take a nap.  It’s hot.

With eyes closed in air-conditioned bedroom meditate am grateful have house son
husband who love me a mother with estate have joints mobile enough to fold
laundry Windex mirrors because if lucky enough to get old decrepit someone else
will do for me not the way I like will feel frustrated

And am not in Syria or Sudan, not untouchable or refugee who had to abandon folded
sheets Windexed mirror mopped porch with charming nests, not rounded up
shipped to death camp

No am not humiliated tortured, am able-bodied loved rich safe healthy fed, so is family,
more than millions maybe billions can say including grandparents fled pogroms landed
face-down in Depression still haunted by those left crippled uncle
disappeared probably gassed

Nor am called to be heroic, rescue babies from rubble like man on news killed doing it

What would find in self if called to fight fires survive famine eat bugs face torture resist
Evil, if take stock as judges would my linen closet, what folded in there

No courage, no mission, my life is details, lived for what, appreciation owed others for
their suffering, expansiveness for their limitations, lived to keep living, for my
satisfaction, to ease lives around me, ensure son has a hat sunblock water bottle
before going out to register voters though he being a teenager will roll his eyes if
dare suggest but what if gets sunburned dehydrated?

Do I envy Proust in cork-lined room, housekeeper to iron shirts bring brandy while he
pens thousand pages uninterrupted

Or not?  Rather be here, down in the dirty?  Outside contractor arrived guys in muscle
shirts mounting ladders ferry concrete bricks to re-mortar chimney before
collapses possibly on innocent passerby

They’re right outside my second-floor bedroom window like men climbing air or
window-washers or mountaineers or Jacob’s angels so I cut short nap go out too.
Light tasks, carry out garbage last night’s fish papers stinking up kitchen pulling
bindweed strangling tomato plants tying up tomatillo gotten leggy, better look up
when harvest, fruits in funny paper lanterns like pebbles, should I fertilize, shovel

And while hunt for string in garage which should clean recall how some do grand things
paint Sistine Chapel carve goddesses out of marble discover penicillin, receive
Torah at Mt. Sinai leap out of gravity in ballet express essence of starry night in
whorls.  While I carry out fish papers, God or whatever igniting volcanoes
exploding stars banging black holes together, even birthing universes taking down


And I’m down here unpinning family bathing suits from clothesline before rain
cherishing moments before death bantering with contractor about the heat still
hoping to get to my desk before cook dinner since so hot instead of grilling
salmon how about poaching serving cold with yogurt-cucumber-garlic-dill could
dice red onion should do now so can chill

Have been trying to write this poem this song this movie this dance this symphony, this
crown of sonnets this ode this hymn this nursery rhyme this myth this fairy tale
this freedom song this work song, since yesterday day before week before year
before decade before lifetime before

About how mundane embedded in sublime, everyday in momentous, or is it vice versa

Because planets spin slowly can’t feel eons passing, no sense of wheeling universe
expanding, of being a transient speck in Milky Way; foreground background
reversed, do I really feel awe as should or am just being dutiful, is life sublime
adventure or slog, dance with stars celestial ones or fake, or a forced march on
wire fraying over abyss, though with view?

No time to figure out because caught in Brownian motion, bumblebee jingle-jangle, of
daily maintenance, when on my deathbed will I wish colors of sky stopped me in
tracks en route to rinsing ants out of compost pail with insecticidal soap
contributing to great cycle of creation destruction, Larkin’s million-petaled flower
of being

woman holding cleaning products
woman holding cleaning products
woman holding cleaning products
woman holding cleaning products

Judith Sanders’ work has appeared in journals such as The American ScholarLightThe Poet, and Calyx, and on the websites Vox Populi and Full Grown People. Her poems won the Hart Crane and Wergle Flomp Humor prizes. Her poetry manuscript, In Deep, was recently named a semifinalist for the Red Mountain Press Discovery Award. She taught English at universities and independent schools, and in France on a Fulbright Fellowship. She lives in Pittsburgh.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema