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

could meet.


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.

She refines,

near-empty loads,

every night.




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

at-least-two-hours-to-wash-press-and-curl bun.     

The way her white shirt clings to her clavicle, I can only

imagine the picture was taken on a hot, Harlem day.

Maybe August.


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.