Dirty Linen

they never asked her
but she always knew.

from her recliner in the shadow of the neem,
she looked at their empty yard,
no sign of life, even the marauding ravens were gone.

he had brought the girl there, young, from money,
to that rickety house that had stood empty for years,
her embroidered silks and sequinned georgettes
drying away from the new cotton sheets,
on a separate line in the shade;
until months later, washed out,
like cloud sponged rainbows,
they fluttered, disinterested, in the summer sun.

then new clothes appeared
from strip mall thrift stores,
her mulmul blouse upside down with his shirt
in the rain,
their arms barely touching.

she brought a bird-feeder, the girl,
emptying her heart with tap water
into the blue plastic dish;
all her little handkerchiefs,
paisleys painted on the ends,
hand-in-hand like prayer flags
whispering to the wind for help.

until that day
when like red-fanged bats
roosting upside down,
old blue jeans,
dark grime still in the hem,
and a worn grey fleece,
the blood stain
a wound across its chest.

she wondered why the papers
called them secretive and cold,
their marriage had always hung
from wiggly wooden clips,
out where everyone could see,
out where she could watch them
from the shadow of the neem;
an empty bird feeder
knocked out of the ground
by a pitiless wind.

they never asked her
about that green print dress,
but she always knew.


For Poets United where the midweek prompt is “Openness”.

39 thoughts on “Dirty Linen

  1. Wow! I grew up with the clothes line–there were no secrets and there was no way NOT to air the family’s dirty linen. So this story hits and resonates. And it reminds me of that short story “Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell (the play “Trifles”)–where the neighbor women hid the evidence when the wife finally did away with the husband. They felt that they were the guilty ones for ignoring the signs. Wow and wow again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The progression is wonderful… how the verse moves from one scene to another is perfect. I love how you weave all these images of linen on the clothes line and particularly that of the bird feeder which tells a story unto itself.


  3. My favorite image is of the handkerchiefs hanging hand in hand like prayer flags. And, oh, I would like to know the story behind that green print dress.


  4. This is an amazement of a poem – and story. LOVE the perspective, a life as seen on the clothesline……….exceptional phrasing, like “washed out like cloud sponged rainbows”, (wow!), and the blouse and shirt together on the line, “their arms barely touching”, and the handkerchiefs like prayer flags, asking for help”. Stunning writing. Just so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow you hit pay-dirt with this intriguing poem it held my attention to the last word guiding me to that last phrase, which left me wondering … I too remember growing up with a clothes line (in fact still have two) and know how you can’t really hide anything hanging on those lines .. funny how no one ever asked her about that green print dress …. it would seem that openness doesn’t always go in both directions as people see what they want to see.


  6. Yes, I remember the times when we knew about everyone from the washing on their lines. This piece is so powerful in the things you DON’T say!


  7. The signs that things go well or badly in a relationship are certainly apparent to all who take an interest and look for them – whether they are the laundry drying on the line, or the glances between partners at a dinner party, or the touch or lack of it by complicit hands. A lovely poem that has such deep sadness in it…


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