American Life in Poetry: Column 069


This marvelous poem by the California poet
Marsha Truman Cooper
perfectly captures the

world of ironing, complete with its intimacy.

At the end, doing a job to perfection, pressing

the perfect edge, establishes a reassuring order
to an otherwise mundane and slightly tawdry world.

Ironing After Midnight

Your mother called it
"doing the pressing,"
and you know now
how right she was.
There is something urgent here.
Not even the hiss
under each button
or the yellow business
ground in at the neck
can make one instant
of this work seem unimportant.
You've been taught
to turn the pocket corners
and pick out the dark lint
that collects there.
You're tempted to leave it,
but the old lessons
go deeper than habits.
Everyone else is asleep.
The odor of sweat rises
when you do
under the armpits,
the owner's particular smell
you can never quite wash out.
You'll stay up.
You'll have your way,
the final stroke
and sharpness
down the long sleeves,
a truly permanent edge.

Reprinted from "River Styx," No. 32, 1990,
by permission of the author, whose most recent

book is "Substantial Holdings," Pudding House
Publications, 2002. Poem copyright (c) 1990
by Marsha Truman Cooper. This weekly column is
supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library

of Congress, and the Department of English at the

University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does
not accept unsolicited poetry.