after Richard Wilbur
It’s early enough in autumn that our windows are open.
All the outdoor noises come through the screens:
leaf blowers and lawn mowers, broken mufflers
and kids whooping down the street on bikes.
We are eight women reading poetry to computers
in our dens and dining rooms, and beneath our words
a chirruping from outside our houses, birdsong
filters through our tinny speakers
as the squeaks of machinery: bedsprings, faucets,
hinges, brakes and broken chassis. I think the birds have pulleys
in their tiny throats, like clotheslines stretched across
New York tenements a century past, where wash
was hauled fist over rosy fist by women wearing headscarves,
clipping clothespins and drawing in
the nighties and panties, the work shirts and tiny socks
that inevitably fell to the bricked courtyard below.
The unuttered songs of women doing work
that runs the engine of the world. At the fountains
drawing water, at the rivers pounding tunics,
in the markets, pinching tomatoes and grapes,
speaking in low tones with the women close-by–
the battered ones and the barren, the newly wed and widows,
sisters, aunts, daughters, whose voices undulate
like wind-blown blouses that threaten to fly away.
To find a new flock. Or to perch
on the nearest green ash and look up
at the miracle of clean clothes, with or without words
casting spells over women who work side-by-side.