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Domestic Work, 1937

All week she's cleaned
someone else's house,
stared down her own face
in the shine of copper-
bottomed pots, polished
wood, toilets she'd pull
the lid to--that look saying

Let's make a change, girl.

But Sunday mornings are hers--
church clothes starched
and hanging, a record spinning
on the console, the whole house
dancing. She raises the shades,
washes the rooms in light,
buckets of water, Octagon soap.

Cleanliness is next to godliness ...

Windows and doors flung wide,
curtains two-stepping
forward and back, neck bones
bumping in the pot, a choir
of clothes clapping on the line.

Nearer my God to Thee ...

She beats time on the rugs,
blows dust from the broom
like dandelion spores, each one
a wish for something better.

—Natasha Trethewey

From Domestic Work, 1999
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Copyright 1999 by Natasha Trethewey.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, from Domestic Work. Copyright 1999 by Natasha Trethewey. For further permissions information contact Permissions Department, Graywolf Press, 2402 University Ave., Ste. 203, St Paul, MN 55114,

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Natasha Trethewey (1966- ) served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012 to 2014. She is the author of five poetry collections, including Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on April 26, 1966.

Learn more about Natasha Trethewey.