By Robert Cording

Featured art: The Bathing Hour, Chester, Nova Scotia by William James Glackens

This morning, doing the laundry,
smoothing collars and shirt plackets
before placing it all in the dryer,
I saw the ghost of my recently dead mother,
her red-capillaried face looking on
approvingly in the steam.

I didn’t expect to see her,
and some of this must be pretend,
but she was there, making a place for herself
over by the baskets, in the light
that fell through the windows
at an angle that never seemed to change.

We got to talking—who doesn’t want
to talk with the dead again
when it’s morning and mostly sunny?—
about the telephone pole in our old backyard,
and the sound of the pulleys and ropes
that carried the wash in and out.

I was lingering over the way a drying sheet
took in a breeze and released it
as if it were breathing,
but my mother chattered away non-stop,
moving as she always did, from topic
to topic without transition,

only pausing here and there to punctuate
with one of her sayings—
Doing the wash makes you happy.
It says you can begin again.
And unlike when she was alive
that seemed true. As the light’s angle

sharpened, none of our mistakes,
our fights or failures, the old
argument about Dad—or even
the ridiculous, proper way
to fold a bottom sheet—held us back
as we finished the first load of darks.

And by the time she held a shirt
by the shoulders, folded it in thirds,
then flipped the bottom half under the top
and laid it in the pile for the living,
I was whistling, caught up entirely
in the rhythm and pace of our task.

Robert Cording has published eight collections of poetry: Life-list (The Ohio State University Press/Journal award, 1987), What Binds Us To This World (Copper Beech Press, 1991), Heavy Grace (Alice James, 1996), Against Consolation (CavanKerry, 2002), Common Life (CavanKerry, 2006), Walking With Ruskin (CavanKerry, 2010), A Word in My Mouth: Selected Spiritual Poems (Wipf and Stock, 2013), and, most recently, Only So Far (CavanKerry Press, 2015).

Originally published in NOR 22.

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