Mr. Africa Poetry Lounge!


There is daywork for colored women.
In the mornings their dark bodies
fill the crosstown buses,
taking them away
from Nicholtown
to the other side
of Greenville
where the white people live.
Our grandmother tells us this
as she sets a small hat with a topaz pin on her head,
pulls white gloves
over her soft brown hands.
Two days a week, she joins the women,
taking on this second job now
that there are four more mouths to feed
and the money
she gets from part-time teaching isn't enough
anymore. I'm not ashamed, she says,
cleaning is what I know. I'm not ashamed,
if it feeds my children.

When she returns in the evening, her hands
are ashen from washing other people's clothes,
Most often by hand,
her ankles swollen from standing all day
making beds and sweeping floors,
shaking dust from curtains,
picking up after other people's children, cooking,
the list
goes on and on.
Don't any of you ever do daywork, she warns us.
I'm doing it now so you don't have to.
And maybe all across Nicholtown, other children
are hearing this, too.

Get the Epsom salts, she says, leaning back
into the soft brown chair, her eyes closing.
When she isn't in it, Hope, Dell and I squeeze in
side by side by side and still, there is space left
for one more.
We fill a dishpan with warm water, pour
the salts in, swirl it around and carefully
carry it to her feet. We fight to see who will get
to rub the swelling from my grandmother's ankles,
the smile back onto her face,
the stories back into the too-quiet room.

You could have eaten off the floor by the time
I left this one house today,
my grandmother begins, letting out a heavy sigh. But
let me tell you,
when I first got there, you would have thought
the Devil himself had come through . . .

Written by Jacqueline Woodson


Mr. Africa Poetry Lounge