My Mother’s Washboard

image from photo by H. Armstrong Roberts
The old washboard

stands in a five dollar flea market tub
with three faded, scratched up tall coke bottles,
a rusted plaid patterned lunch pail,
a red plastic mesh bag filled with used beach toys,
a broken hobby horse some kid rode once
while yelling, Hi, Ho, Silver! Away!

Among this disregarded dusty junk,
the old washboard looks fragile
as if the wood surrounding the corrugated steel
might fracture should a woman grasp it
intending to use it to scrub stains
from familial laundry
like my mother did with her’s.

I remember my mother’s washboard
standing in her soaking bucket,
filled with 20 Mule Team Borax, Biz, and hot water,
which stood in the concrete laundry tubs
in the basement of the house.

I remember how her knuckles turned red,
the skin raw looking, as she scrubbed blood
from a blouse, pouring salt from a Morton’s
salt container onto the stain then scrubbing
up and down, up and down on the washboard,
then dunking the blouse twice
to see if the stain was gone.
Pour, scrub, scrub, dunk, dunk
pour, scrub, scrub, dunk, dunk
pour, scrub, scrub, dunk, dunk
The pattern, the rhythm, until the stain erased.

I have no soaking bucket,
no Twenty Mule Team Borax, no Biz,
no washboard
to get my stains out.
My bottle of Oxi Clean Stain Remover
pales in memory
of my mother’s washboard.


(Maria Spelterini crossing the Niagara gorge on a tightrope, 1876)
Image courtesy of

Since I drove right by it

on my GPS selected route

on my way to dinner

with friends,

I had to stop:

Here now— pulled over, paying reverence,

to time, youth, innocence, tragedy

When we loved each other

in this home we made together.

Here— this moment of reverence paid

unlocks the door of a room

where you are kept

preserved in perfection,

untainted by guilt

by tragedy

by the judgement

I rendered upon you

in my innocent ignorant self-righteousness

and so unleashed our tragedy upon us.

Now— could I travel that twisted high wire of time

back through the forty years

yet keep the wisdom of lessons

learned of forgiveness and judgment—

we would be young lovers

starting out again

and I would gift

you treasures of ancient gods and goddesses—

olive oil, an olive tree to plant,

casks of rose water,

roughly hewn amber, the mythic tears,

in which we could be captured.

I raise my head, turn my eyes to the road ahead,

locking the door to that place

where you are kept

preserved in perfection:

Sitting in the window seat,

your head tilted to the light,

sunlight glistening off your copper color hair,

smile wide as you lift your drawing pad
and pencil,

and begin to sketch,

your thin lovely hand floating
in movement above the page.

There,I leave you once again,

As I drive away.