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This marvelous poem by California poet Marsha Truman Cooper perfectly captures the world of ironing, complete with its intimacy. At the end, doing a job to perfection, pressing the perfect edge, establishes a reassuring order to an otherwise mundane and slightly tawdry world.

Ironing After Midnight

Your mother called it

"doing the pressing,"

and you know now

how right she was.

There is something urgent here.

Not even the hiss

under each button

or the yellow business

ground in at the neck

can make one instant

of this work seem unimportant.

You've been taught

to turn the pocket corners

and pick out the dark lint

that collects there.

You're tempted to leave it,

but the old lessons

go deeper than habits.

Everyone else is asleep.

The odor of sweat rises

when you do

under the armpits,

the owner's particular smell

you can never quite wash out.

You'll stay up.

You'll have your way,

the final stroke

and sharpness

down the long sleeves,

a truly permanent edge.


Reprinted from River Styx, No. 32, 1990, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is Substantial Holdings, Pudding House Publications, 2002. Poem copyright 1990 by Marsha Truman Cooper. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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