Laundry and James Tate
Shortly before I moved from Amherst, Mass.,
A famous poet friend of mine walked past,
His laundry bag slung over withered shoulders,
Worn out with writing poems about ham,
Boobies of many hues, the Son of Sam.
I had been idling at the Laundromat
Myself, and soon would dry my soiled load
Of knee socks till they fit like normal socks.
In youth, he’d joined a secret commune vowing
Never to wash his own, he told me. Better
Still, “that shop there will do it cheap.” He told
Me also, there were others growing old
And stubborn on their way to leave their socks
In the steam-wrinkled hands of Chinese women.
I told him back, I wished I hadn’t heard.
Or rather, wished he would have said as much
A long, long time before. What good it do
Me now? My final load of shirts and socks
Shrinking behind me while I shot the shit?
The towns that light the winter darkness in
New England’s Presbyterian western woods
Are full of secret pacts I’ll never learn
Of; full of old men whispering of whites
And darks in places where Ben Franklin stood.
They know his secret list of virtues: it
Is far more practical than you suspect.
“Thanks anyway, Jim,” I said, and turned forever
From wealthy Masonries I could not join,
Naively turning toward the drier’s ever-
Spinning abyss where my socks were as stars
That light a weary pilgrim’s way to nowhere.
James Matthew Wilson is the author of five books, including most recently, Some Permanent Things and The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014).