Posted by: ktzefr | December 21, 2010

Tea and Poetry: Verses and Vignettes 1

“On a roof in the Old City

laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight:

the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,

the towel of a man who is my enemy,

to wipe off the sweat of his brow.”

from Jerusalem by Yehuda Amichai


Monday is laundry day.  I’m on my fifth load.  I would have been done earlier, but I went out for three hours midday to do Christmas shopping.  As I stuffed the last load into the washer I remembered this poem and went upstairs to pull a book off the shelf and look for it.  Associations always fascinate me.  Today my mind skipped from the laundry to the poem to a young Israeli man I met one holiday season in the islands to my mom doing laundry on Mondays when I was growing up in Kentucky.  I’ve heard Christmas carols in the background all day…sleep in heavenly peace; peace on Earth, good will to men; when peace shall over all the Earth; oh come, Desire of nations, bind/In one the hearts of all mankind;/Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,/And be Thyself our King of peace. We sing a lot about peace at Christmas.


Two years ago…Christmas music in the background.  I stopped in a shop in Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands) to look at jewelry.  Handmade in Turkey, gold and silver, fake gold and silver, big medallions, clunky bracelets, interesting designs.  The shop was empty.  There were no cruise ships in port, so the streets were pretty empty, too.  I talked to the shopkeeper, a young Israeli man who had recently moved to the islands.  In the Middle East he’d been under constant stress, he told me.  Always cautious, always looking and listening, he had put his energy and passion into staying alive.  Now, he was passionate about the islands, he said.  “I never imagined this life was possible.  I’ll never go back there.”  There.  He didn’t even use the word home.  A few months later I was in the islands again and stopped by the Turkish jewelry shop to say hello, but he was gone.  The new shopkeeper didn’t remember him, had no clue where he’d gone.


When I was growing up my mom did the laundry on a Maytag wringer washing machine.  These washers were hands-on.  After the clothes soaked and washed, you had to slip them through a wringer mechanism by hand into a tub of clear water for rinsing, and then back through the wringer again before hanging out to dry.  Maytag stopped making the washers in the early 80s, but some people have kept them and had them restored as replacement parts are actually still available a few places.  These old machines were durable and efficient.  I remember the sweet scent and feel of clothes that had been hanging in the sun all day.  I also remember my mom hanging clothes out to dry in all kinds of weather.  So much depended on the weather back then.  I forget to be grateful that I can do the wash anytime day or night, no matter what’s going on outside.

The image of laundry (in the poem) hanging in the late afternoon sunlight is a pretty one, easy to conjure up from my own memories, see the sun’s gold on the white sheets, but it’s difficult to imagine this close proximity of enemies — where people divided by such a deep chasm are separated by only a few rooftops.





  1. I remember everything, but especially from the wringer washer like it was yesterday when I was a student I did my laundry, and two white blouse that I had to buy myself have remained caught in the wringer and came out every tear and full of fat black and my mother when she was doing the washing, was putting himself in the sacred cause of clothes caught in the wringer, after the engine caught fire, and my father replaced it and start over. And you had the clothes you déjas caught in the wringer.
    continue your wonderful work you are.

    • Thanks, Jullie b. I’m glad you enjoy the blog. And sorry about your white blouses!

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