101. The Cleaning Lady

The gray mop she
Swung into the bucket,
Swished it, wrung it,
Swiped the floor, to, fro.

          Mad and mad! That’s
          All they know, is

          Man comes tells me,
          Don’t need me no
          More to clean this place.
          This day’s last day.
          So why clean? Don’t
          Need it. No, just
          Shutting down.
          Bye, Bank.

She poured
Powdered soap.

          Lord! the first thing
          Him to do–
          Came the phone call
          Last month, when he
          Heard–hang up , white
          As an egg–then
          Turns to me!

The mop
Slapped the floor.

          Turns to me–
          Oh, I know what’s
          Coming–then he
          Say: this floor is
          So he say!
          Why, I almost
          Laughed! He tell me–
          What I pay you
          For? Some honest
          Work might break your
          And you lazy–
          And you steal me

She laughed.
Wiped her eyes.

          Then he grab that
          Book, “Debts Uncollected,”
          Always make him
          Mad. What the hell,
          I can tell he’s
          Hell-bent to be
          Madder! No,
          God forbid he
          Calm down by hisself.
          So he reads that
          Book! And then he
          Throw his orange rind
          On the ground. I
          Sweep it.

          Ones like him,
          Their sons just
          The same, peas
          In a pod.
          I know ’cause I’ve
          Kept them: daughter
          Lose her toy, she
          Cries. Son lose his–
          Mad. And Ma come

Her mop she leaned
In the narrow
Closet. Headed
For the window,
She fetched rags.

          Last time for these
          Windows. Take it
          Slow. Well, let’s
          See. Today what’s
          Going on
          Outside? Don’t get much
          Chance to gape.

The street,
No rain had washed
Storefronts all this while:
Boards smoked dust.
Painted signs had
Faded something awful.
Sun sucked color
Out and kept on sucking.
Even “BANK”–
Gold enamel
Curled, gone beige.

          Called me lazy.
          Wellsir, if they
          Say day’s night,
          You’d best swear it
          On your soul they’re
          Right–or they’ll get
          Mad. They get
          Mad and throw, we
          Clean it up–
          Nope, they can’t: they’re
          Mad. They yell
          At the kids, throttle them–
          Don’t we
          Understand? Daddy’s
          Downtown I seen
          More than used to be–
          Black eyes and some
          Bruises on some
          Lips–lots of
          Fine white ladies
          Bumping into doors!
          Of course, he can’t
          Help it–he was
          And that’s what mad
          Means: it means can’t
          Help it. And that’s
          What it’s for.

She tried shading
Eyes against the glare. No
Green appeared.

          Mighty lot there
          Is that can’t be

She knelt wiping.

          What all goes in,
          It comes out as
          Mad. Oh,
          But not us! Not
          Us, we hold our
          Horses, hold our
          Tempers, hold our

She spit
In her cloth.

          How come us to
          Do it? Why,
          We know.
          If we let loose
          Only once, a smattering–
          A crack–
          If we let loose,
          Fighting flame with
          Flame–why, you would
          See a fire
          Would put Hell to

          Hell on earth–
          That, or flood of
          Tears. All
          Would be gone.
          We let loose,
          Then this bank will
          Burn. Maybe,
          Too, our home….

She shook her head.

          Who’d clean up
          The mess? A shambles,
          And it would be
          Us. We know.
          Of  course.

She was laughing
Underneath her breath.

          Shine, glass, shine!
          Shine before he
          Comes and sees me
          Lolling–drive him

          No, I won’t–
          Won’t hear talk of
          Stealing: don’t steal
           And him yelling,
          “What I pay you for?”

Here she polished

          What’s he
          Pay me for?
          I should say, “To
          Clean your mess. Your
           Mess”–and sting him
           With a wink.

She smiled thinly.

          Yes, sir.


          Should have said it.
          But I didn’t

4 Responses to “101. The Cleaning Lady”

  1. Jack Heaton Says:

    Love the down to earth topic!

  2. sshaver Says:

    Jack, I believe you are the first blogger on this website to honor us with a male presence. That is most welcomed.

  3. ninjanurse Says:

    Some of my family lived through that. Thanks for giving her a voice.

  4. sshaver Says:

    Hi, I want to think on this and on your James comment from Episode 8. Will respond on the Welcome Page mid-week. Thanks.

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