Once, at a book conference overseas, the women at my table told me they felt sorry for American women like me, that I not only had to work so hard at my writing career but also at home, cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and taking care of my children, while they had cooks and drivers and housekeepers and nannies. I’ve thought about that conversation ever since. Thought about what it says about the systems of racism and sexism most of us struggle within. Thought about famous people and all the people behind them in the shadows, overlooked, overworked, underpaid. Every time I read the last line of this poem the entirety of our country’s history comes over me.
study the masters, by Lucille Clifton
like my aunt timmie.
it was her iron,
or one like hers,
that smoothed the sheets
the master poet slept on.
home or hotel, what matters is
he lay himself down on her handiwork
and dreamed. she dreamed too, words:
some cherokee, some masai and some
huge and particular as hope.
if you had heard her
chanting as she ironed
you would understand form and line
and discipline and order and