Thursday, February 27, 2014

Housekeeping Poetry

     The other day I found a poem posted on Facebook that made me laugh aloud. "Dust If You Must," by Rose Milligan, offers lively rhyming words that convey the same message as the modern-day acronym "Y.O.L.O." (You Only Live Once), and the classic Latin admonition to live in the present, "Carpe Diem." Each verse begins with the words "Dust if you must, but…," following up with questions and comments that point out all of the more fulfilling alternatives to spending one's life dusting, such as: "…wouldn't it be better/ To paint a picture or write a letter…rivers to swim and mountains to climb…." The wry ending elicited my laugh:

          "Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
          Old age will come and it's not kind.
          And when you go--and go you must--
          You, yourself, will make more dust."

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes--so why waste time dusting, right? Life is an untidy business, which can only be relished, not controlled. And "good housekeeping" may be a cover for a person who yearns to be more adventurous, but chooses to play it safe for fear of the messiness of a life lived with abandon.

     Immediately, I recalled an old poem I wrote, also about housekeeping, also wry in its tone:

Rug Raker

Raking your rug,
Not hitting your kids,
Not breaking a plate,
Or slamming a door.

Raking the shag,
Not talking it out,
Not cleaning the shelves,
Or calling a friend.

Raking your rug,
Not crying your tears,
Not showing your pain—
Or feeling it.

Raking, you made
The living room die,
Track-free, preserved,
Museum-room style.

     While Rose Milligan's poem contains a warning to live life while you can--a warning that could have benefited this woman who perpetually raked her shag carpeting--my poem is more of an observation about housekeeping as a coping method. Rug raking is seen as a means of avoiding stress, honest communication, necessary confrontations, and emotional upheavals by keeping occupied with outward tidiness.  

     As I look around at my messy countertop, my computer surrounded by a crumb-covered dish, an empty coffee cup, an empty water glass, pens and paper, and a cell phone on which I now note an illuminated text from my precious daughter, I feel joy for the untidiness of my life and my ability to take the time to write this post, even though I need to get work done on my novel-in-progress. Dust abounds, and that's just fine with me.

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