Robert H. Demaree Jr.
Summers I worked at the laundry,
Money for college. This was in the ’50s,
People still got polio then.
We washed the dingy garments of the shoe towns
(We still had them in New Hampshire then)
And the fine percale of the folk
Who lived down gated roads by the lake.
The girls who did the folding
(We called them girls then)
Would offer coarse jokes
About the bed sheets of the rich.
And I, caught, then as now,
Somewhere in the middle,
Passed wrenches to Neil, our boss,
As he straddled the ancient boiler,
Expert turnings of things we chose to think
Kept us from blowing up.
He nursed and finally lost a son to polio.
For forty years I went by his house
And we would recall the ones
Who ran the presses, fed the mangle.
The laundry is gone, of course,
Chiropractors and aroma therapists in its space;
Gone, too, is Neil, my gentle friend,
Who valued me in a fragile time,
On hot July afternoons,
Steamy with the innocent fragrance of
Starch, fresh linen, decent toil.
“At the Laundry” has appeared in Tapestries (November 2008) and the 2008 Poets’ Guide to New Hampshire.
Robert H. Demaree Jr. is the author of four collections of poems, including Fathers and Teachers, and Mileposts, both published by Beech River Books. He was born in Pennsylvania and has family ties to New Hampshire, where he lives five months of the year. The winner of the 2007 Conway, N.H., Library Poetry Award, he has poems published or accepted by 130 periodicals, including The Aurorean, Louisville Review, Miller’s Pond, and the Poet’s Guide to New Hampshire anthology.