APRIL 1997

   T H E RAVEN C H R O N I C L E S  

April Ikon | Matt Briggs




Work to Do

by Deborah A. Miranda


From 9-5, I clean houses. Nobody cares what my mind is thinkings long as the vacuuming gets done...and the truth is, I don't know what I'm going to do with my life. I feel desperation, exhilaration and fear in unpredictable sequence almost all the time. I have remembered fully what happened to me as a child, and freedom from silence is more frightening than anything I've ever forgotten or ignored about being raped. Now I have a voice. What might I hurt, reveal, risk, gain, by speaking? I'm not ready to rejoin the world. I need time.
Two things save me: poetry, and my own body. This year I have adopted Chrystos as my patron saint. Not only is she incredibly gifted with words, but her voice is Indian, survivor, woman. And she did time cleaning houses, too; she knew this drill. Dust, vacuum, mop. Toilet,sink, tub. She came home at night with cracked dry hands, hair smelling of cleansers, calves aching from flights of stairs. And she wrote the poem "Leaf Behind My Ear," which I memorize and carry with me. Certain lines are gifts.

A question a woman asked me once
floats upward in my fingers
How do you have hope to go on?

...I can't answer that question I've carried with me
except to say I'm alive I'm loved
there's work to do

Dream On, 1991

How do I have hope to go on? Somehow know I must start by reclaiming my body's abilities. The basics. How to lift, move, how to call on muscle,sinew, bone. Housecleaning takes sweat. It takes being in my body--not ignoring it or hating it or fleeing it--for huge chunks of the day.That's what I like, the blunt expectations and how, over time, my body has become strong and wiry, able to meet those expectations. What I don't anticipate is how housecleaning teaches me that there is no hiding in the mundane. A day in the life of a house cleaner:

The girl is sweet, intrigued by me, shy. She is just home from kindergarten, takes out two cans of Play-Do and sits at the end of the kitchen counter. Nearby, I clean the vegetable bins.

Rising, the father comes into the kitchen and gets something to eat."What's that you got?" his girl asks, shyly. She's had no lunch that I can see, no snack. "Nothing for you," the father snaps, "Why? You got a problem with that?" She returns to her Play-Do. "No," she says softly to the kitchen counter. "Hey!" the dad barks, "You're dropping pieces! Well, pick 'em up! I don't want crap all over my floor."

My floor. I kneel behind the open refrigerator door, grateful suddenly for a plastic barrier between me and this family. I know I am supposed to be here another 45 minutes, but I've lived these minutes already. This is my own nightmare revisited. Oh, mine was a different kind of poverty,living in a trailer, drawing welfare, being the only Indian kid in school.Compared to my girlhood, Sabrina's is "privileged," "good". But I recognize the signs. She's living in the crucible of neglect, abuse,loneliness.

Will she survive? Will she be melted down, form some soul-less pink and white thing to be decorated, for some boy to ask out? Or will she break the pattern--painfully, learn the hard work of loving herself?

I love her already, helplessly, powerlessly. I smile at Sabrina when no one is looking, and she is at first startled, then blushes and smiles in return. I know I'll go home and write.

I glance at my watch, urge the minutes to go by faster. Will Sabrina do that, long for release, when she's older? Such a long haul. Such a small girl. Thirty years ago, it was me. Even now, it's easy to grow tired,lose faith, give in to despair. I wipe down the outside doors of the refrigerator, think about the next house a few miles away. I think about the application I sent away for grad school. It seems a long shot,impossible. Even if I am accepted, there's no money for such a venture.Inside, I'm afraid. For a minute I glimpse hopelessness again, my demon-lover, my weakness.

Then I'm packing up my bucket of supplies, tucking the check into milliwatt, saying goodbye to Sabrina. I'm out the door, pursued by doubt.And I go on. Work to do. My world hanging, as it often does, on the word of a poet.

Thank you, Chrystos.






 © The Raven Chronicles 1997