The Chambermaids in the Marriott in Midmorning
are having a sort of coffee klatch as they clean
calling across the corridors in their rich contraltos
while luffing fresh sheets in the flickering gloom
of the turgid passionate soaps they follow from room to room.
In Atlanta they are black, young, with eloquent eyes.
In Toledo white, middle-aged, wearing nurses’ shoes.
In El Paso always in motion diminutive Chicanas
gesture and lift and trill in liquid Spanish.
Behind my “Do Not Disturb” sign I go wherever they go
sorely tried by their menfolk, their husbands, lovers or sons
who have jobs or have lost them, who drink and run around,
who total their cars and are maimed, or lie idle in traction.
The funerals, weddings and births, the quarrels, the fatal gunshots
happen again and again, inventively reenacted
except that the story is framed by ads and coming attractions,
except that what takes a week in real life took only minutes.
I think how static my life is with its careful speeches and classes
and how I admire the women who daily clean up my messes,
who are never done scrubbing with Rabelaisian vigor
through the Marriott’s morning soaps up and down every corridor.
“The Chambermaids in the Marriott in Midmorning” by Maxine Kumin from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010. © W.W. Norton and Company, 2011.