When it snapped Mama yelled
across the yard to Mrs.Mac who pulleyed
the new line tied to the old
back to Mama, who untied
the flittered and secured the new.
Then she parted the sea
of clothes, light from dark,
into the steaming water
tossed in a cube that blued it,
such alchemy blanched my soul.
On the ribs of a board she scrubbed
til her knuckles bled and lower back screamed.
After a cup of tea and a biscuit
she ferried the washed to the window
in a willow basket, leaned it
against the S-shaped iron guard.
Like a shoemaker tonguing nails,
she teeth-snapped clothes pins and flapped
my fatherís shirt, pegged it until it floated
on Bronx breezes. Our lives swung
from that line: cabbage rose aprons,
Hopalong tees, railroad overalls.
From my classroom window, I could read
my familyís story writ against a witless sky
and knew Mama was safe until
the weight of our daily lives rent the line again.†