The Laundress

That man, the painter—
nothing better to do

And so, I’ll begin the sketch. She is magnificent–
her sturdy body, and her muscled arms—

they ache–bent over scrubbing all day–
my back, my legs! And still the ironing,

not done. The light is fading. The color, not quite right.
But that glow illuminating her? Our lady of the laundry. . .
.

yes, I pray, but. . .oh, this basket top-full and heavy.
Come child, give me your hand,

so tender

my dear little one. I’ll tell you a story–
once there was a man who painted

her face

all the weariness gone.


Honoré Daumier, “The Laundress” (1863?), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

April is Poetry Month, and there are so many challenges and prompts! I won’t be doing or posting every NaPoWriMo prompt, but today I’m combining this “early bird” prompt with the dVerse poetics prompt where De asked to write about laundry. This formatting took way too long to figure out. Tomorrow is the start of Paul Brookes’ Ekphrastic Challenge.

50 thoughts on “The Laundress

  1. I love the format. Your time figuring it out pays off for your readers 🙂 The poem reads kind of like a “call and response,” not that I’m entirely sure what I mean by that. It seems like the laundress is aware that a man is painting her image, hears him compliment her muscled arms, grumbles to herself of her achy limbs while the painter, oblivious to the laundress’s weariness, paints away, lost in his own observations. The painter is probably lucky the laundress didn’t throw her bundle at him 😉

  2. This is exquisitely woven, Merril! 💝💝 I can almost picture her “sturdy body, and her muscled arms,”..it reminds me of the times when women had to work much harder when it came to doing chores, nowadays it’s different with the introduction of washing machines. I wonder what she would have said had she known she was being painted 😉

    • Thanks so much, Sanaa! ❤️
      Doing the laundry definitely used to be a time consuming and backbreaking job!
      There seemed to be so many paintings that sort of idealized the washing and washing women. I wanted to give her a chance to have her say, too. 😀

  3. The painting and poetry are clever and poignant, but not relatable to modern women with automatic machines. Now we probably feel “faceless” and “unseen” for different reasons.

    Of course the art and poem reminds me of “The Irish Washerwoman,” who toiled as hard as Daumier’s woman but showed a little more verve.

    Wonderful weaving of words and spacing, Merril!

  4. I love how you’ve shown the two different perspectives here Merril: especially the woman struggling with real life while the painter gets to make art!

  5. This is absolutely gorgeous, Merril. I loved the two perspectives. Read it, absorbed it, read it again… looked up and soaked up the words…

  6. The context is different but values correlate across time, the sense I took was the lot of my great grand-mother – mother period to the continued lot of women I know today. But so many other levels to engage this wonderful poem.

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