By Kimberly Blaeser
What would housework mean
to women who haul water from springs,
use lye soap and scrub boards,
who hang flypaper on ceilings
and sew cloth cupboard curtains
on the family treadle machine?
What does kitchen appliance mean
to those toasting bread in ovens
of old wood stoves,
or bathroom appliance
to those donning snow boots
to walk to the outhouse?
Somewhere between microwave pancakes
and the state-of-the-art mixmaster
I trip over the kitchen slop pail
retch at the smell of lard rendering.
Just as my fingers settle on the dvd remote
I remember to empty the ash can.
At three my daughter kisses and releases her fish
at four she asks if chicken is a dead bird.
At forty like Billy Pilgrim I come unstuck in time
still wait to take my turn in a three-foot washtub,
then light candles and soak in a warm whirlpool
now camped uneasily between progress and nostalgia.
With a heavy duty vacuum and a lightweight canister
I cruise the air-conditioned floors of my house
sweep away unearned guilt or hire a cleaning lady.
With electric everything and my computer whirring
I work my way through memories and philosophies
Try to recollect that proverb about idle hands.
What does convenience mean in a country of prosperity?
Should we use or release our histories?
Can education repay old debts?
If science and technology are the answers
who have we hired to ask the questions?
And what was it you said about women’s work?
Kimberly Blaeser is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature and American Nature Writing. She has published three books of poems, including Apprenticed to Justice (Great Wilbraham, Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing Ltd., 2007), where this poem appears; a scholarly study, Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition; and numerous articles and book chapters. Blaeser is of Anishinaabe ancestry and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe who grew up on the White Earth Reservation.