American Life in Poetry: Column 318


I love poems that take pains to observe people at their tasks, and here’s a fine one by Christopher Todd Matthews, who lives in Virginia.

Window Washer

One hand slops suds on, one

hustles them down like a blind.

Brusque noon glare, filtered thus,

loosens and glows. For five or

six minutes he owns the place,

dismal coffee bar, and us, its

huddled underemployed. A blade,

black line against the topmost glass,

begins, slices off the outer lather,

flings it away, works inward,

corrals the frothy middle, and carves,

with quick cuts, the stuff down,

not looking for anything, beneath

or inside. Homes to the last,

cleans its edges, grooms it for

the end, then shaves it off

and flings it away. Which is

splendid, and merciless. And all

in the wrist. Then, he looks at us.

We makers of filth, we splashers

and spitters. We sitters and watchers.

Who like to see him work.

Who love it when he leaves

and gives it back: our grim hideout,

half spoiled by clarity.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Christopher Todd Matthews, and reprinted from Field, No. 82, 2010, by permission of Christopher Todd Matthews and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.