Tessa, My Grandmother, The Laundress


Edgar Degas, Women Ironing (1886)

It’s woman’s work, he said, as if
there’s some clear delineation
or grid or boundary and would
it be embarassing for a man
to do his laundry, spirit hushed
or something?

She yawned a big yawn, Suzanne, one
hand pressed to ear, the other holding
on to a bottle, while an orange scarf
uplifted the viewer’s spirit.
Her colleague, Sandy, hunched over
iron pressed to white linen.

My grandmother did ironing
and I watched her lift the metal
body of the iron filled with coals
pressing it down with a smile.
I’ve long felt compassionate
toward all laundresses.


Prompt: Truth be told, I feel the spirit weakening. But no, Elena says, keep on writing, with a picture of Dory the fish. Alrighty. I had spotted this picture by Degas of two laundresses this morning and after a mighty full day, I felt like I had done some backbreaking work like these two women. Degas had watched laundresses at work between 1884-1886 and produced this painting. He managed to convey the weariness with tenderness.


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