Thoughts After Ruskin, by Elma Mitchell
Women reminded him of lilies and roses.Me they remind rather of blood and soap,Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,Scalding, blanching, broiling, pulverising,- All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens.
Their distant husbands lean across mahoganyAnd delicately manipulate the market,While safe at home, the tender and gentleAre killing tiny mice, dead snap by the neck,Asphyxiating flies, evicting spiders,Scrubbing, scouring aloud, disturbing cupboards,Committing things to dustbins, twisting, wringing,Wrists red and knuckles white and fingers puckered,Pulpy, tepid. Steering screaming cleanersAround the snags of furniture, they straightenAnd haul out sheets from under the incontinentAnd heavy old, stoop to importunate young,Tugging, folding, tucking, zipping, buttoning,Spooning in food, encouraging excretion,Mopping up vomit, stabbing cloth with needles,Contorting wool around their knitting needles,Creating snug and comfy on their needles.
Their huge hands! their everywhere eyes! their voicesRaised to convey across the hullabaloo,Their massive thighs and breasts dispensing comfort,Their bloody passages and hairy crannies,Their wombs that pocket a man upside down!
And when all's over, off with overalls,Quickly consulting clocks, they go upstairs,Sit and sigh a little, brushing hair,And somehow find, in mirrors, colours, odours,Their essences of lilies and of roses.
image by Sally Mann.