“Clerking at the Ideal Laundry” by Patricia Callan

Patricia Callan


A lousy job—I’m broke and strapped
I work this place where there’s a baseball bat
upon a shelf in case I must deter
some amorous jerk, maybe the customer
who thinks his pockets leave no hints:
boxes of rubbers, cash and mints.

Shirts are piled high on the racks,
lingerie, underwear, T-shirts, stacks
of sheets, neatly folded, and heavy bags
of wash left by the tipsy wife who brags
she’d never touch such things and—wink—
speeds off to meet her lover for a drink.

The artist’s paint on spattered overalls
give me a view of how her day is spent.
Slapping paint on client’s walls,
she’s hired, a helper with a tired lament,
whining the way a weary toddler bawls.
Sorry, I can’t remove her discontent.

Delusional for years, he’ll pray for you
Robed like a priest from head to hem with starched
collars left here every week, the few
nostalgic threads before the day they marched
him out the seminary door. Still daft,
he always waves his beads at me. Witchcraft?

I fondle the Armani blazer twice
monthly, notice it’s tailored flawlessly.
On monogrammed, white handkerchiefs, precise
lipstick stains flame scandal up at me.
He straightens his tie, manner elegant,
“Toss them.” His vows? Irrelevant.

A pretty, flowered robe (size large), pale pink,
shrouds this sickly girl who’ll no doubt shrink
inside her clothes grown massive as in a cape,
from week to week. She has no fat or shape.
How long before this hanger looks obscene?
How long before there’s nothing left to clean?

The reasons for attire, always the same.
to hide, to flee or try to costume shame.
At this place no soul can be redeemed
a mangled life cannot be bleached and cleaned.
I’ll take—why not—whatever cash I find
and leave your clothes, your stains, your dirt, behind.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012

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