An August day, the kind when the exhausted concrete
hisses excrement, a lady made my grandmother hand-wash
her underwear. She’d had an accident, this lady, but shame
wasn’t her worry. The browned, red chunks of blood,
refuse, to be combed by her girl Pansy’s hands.
Washing machine, too delicate.
Silting, only the brown, knotted, knuckles
that kneaded another family’s sore feet—
caressed their children’s cold, plum cheeks
My mother, the one to recall
this day, for me—caution, tribute,
after a two-bus, crosstown, commute,
over the scalp of a New York summer.
My grandmother was a domestic.
A home aide. A maid.
My mother’s prized appliance:
Her washing machine.
In the photo on my fridge my grandmother is wearing a
linen blazer that engulfs her shoulders. As if a man’s,
and not just a size too big. As if not made for her
at all. Her white-rimmed glasses have the same
indifference for her body, pinching the bridge of her nose.
Her hair is slicked and pinned in the toil of an
The way her white shirt clings to her clavicle, I can only
imagine the picture was taken on a hot, Harlem day.
I keep it next to the 2009 inauguration photo. Michelle in
felted, gold lace.
My grandmother’s photograph, crystalline amber,
a Kodak filter she probably paid more for at the local
Woolworths down South. Or Up North. I’m sure she
thought it would make her look sophisticated.
I crack yolks to the steam,
the hair sizzling inside each tooth
the hot comb fighting tired, steady
hands, instance, humidity.
Everything in place,
the next hour or so.
Long enough to
take the picture.
by Kimberly Reyes
Kimberly Reyes is an award-winning poet and essayist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, Time.com, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Alternative Press, ESPN the Magazine, Jane, NY1 News, The Best American Poetry blog, poets.org, The Feminist Wire, The Acentos Review, RHINO, Obsidian and Columbia Journal, among other places. Her full-length poetry manuscript Running to Stand Still, is forthcoming from Omnidawn and her nonfiction book of essays Life During Wartime recently won the Micheal Rubin Book Award. Kimberly will soon be leaving the fog of San Francisco for the fog of Cork, Ireland as a 2019-2020 Fulbright scholar studying Irish Literature and Film at University College Cork.