By Dorianne Laux

What good does it do anyone
to have a drawer full of clean knives,
the tines of tiny pitchforks
gleaming in plastic bins, your face
reflected eight times over
in the oval bowls of spoons?
What does it matter that the bathmat’s
scrubbed free of mold, the door mat
swept clear of leaves, the screen door
picked clean of bees’ wings, wasps’
dumbstruck bodies, the thoraxes
of flies and moths, high corners
broomed of spider webs, flowered
sheets folded and sealed in drawers,
blankets shaken so sleep’s duff and fuzz,
dead skin flakes, lost strands of hair
flicker down on the cut grass?
Who cares if breadcrumbs collect
on the countertop, if photographs
of the ones you love go gray with dust,
if milk jugs pile up, unreturned,
on the back porch near the old dog’s dish
encrusted with puppy chow?
Oh to rub the windows with vinegar,
the trees behind them revealing
their true colors. Oh the bleachy,
waxy, soapy perfume of spring.
Why should the things of this world
shine so? Tell me if you know.

SOURCE: “The Idea of Housework” by Dorianne Laux appears in Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary Women Poets Do Housework, edited byPamela Gemin (University of Iowa Press, 2005). The 212-page collection, which features work by over 80 poets, is available at

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Thankless, mundane, and “never done,”  contemporary women poets are still writing the domestic experience — sometimes resenting its futility and lack of social rewards, sometimes celebrating its sensory delights and immediate gratification, sometimes cherishing the undeniable link it provides to their mothers and grandmothers. In Sweeping Beauty, a number of these poets illustrate how housekeeping’s repetitive motions can free the imagination and release the housekeeper’s muse. For many, housekeeping provides the key to a state of mind approaching meditation, a state of mind also conducive to making poems. The more than eighty contributors toSweeping Beauty embrace this state and confirm that women are pioneers and inventors as well as life-givers and nurturers.