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The Mangle

by Barbara Rockman

Before disposable paper gowns    before laundry service    sealed sanitary   

snap or tie    front or back as instructed    my mother halved twin sheets  

took pinking shears to the center and cut round holes:   

hemmed ghost costumes to drape my father’s patients.

 

Like Corrasable bond eased into a typewriter 

like butcher paper unrolled to wrap the roast

my mother fed the electronic mangle

from an iron chair in a corner of the kitchen 

 

leaned into the white enamel behemoth

heap of damp percale to her left   

rollers’ steam    hum of cogs    smell of near burn

Sucked dry and crisped    a stack of folded squares rose beside her

 

Rim of perspiration round her hairline     

her dark hair    burr and frizz  

 

            to mangle:  severely mutilate, disfigure, damage by cutting, tearing or         crushing 

            as, ruin with intonation     ex. the speech was mangled by poor delivery   

My mother accepted one definition:

            verb, to wring dry and press flat

She would not call herself a complicated woman  

            as, a life soured by circumstance

How flat the sheets as they exited the hot press 

how they fell in waves    how my mother snatched them

before they fell to linoleum    stood to snap    crease and pile   

afternoon sun crossing her bent shoulders      small daughter watching

           

            mangle: originally, a device for deceiving

 

My mother said she found God as she crouched in filthy dungarees, torn Keds, weeding a bed of peonies and lupines. Ragged with care: she wanted an illusion of wildness. All her life she perfected balance between expectation and independence, would not succumb to grief or weakness.  At 85, she died

mouth frozen wide to what she was about to say. 

Barbara Rockman is author of “Sting and Nest” which received the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and the National Press Women Book Prize. Her new collection, “to cleave:” is forthcoming from University of New Mexico Press. Her poems appear in Bellingham Review, Nimrod, Louisville Review, Cimarron Review, terrain.org. and many anthologies. She teaches writing at Santa Fe Community College and is Workshop Coordinator for Wingspan Poetry Project bringing poetry to victims of domestic violence. A frequent collaborator with artists, her work has been featured at the Conference on Radical Feminism, Barcelona. Barbara lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.