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Poetry Friday: “Heat” by Michael Chitwood

By (May 11, 2013) No Comment


Ironing, like so many other domestic chores, has about it the air of religion.

There is a compelling need for specific implements and special rituals, a curious balance of fire and water, a mix of dry and damp, and a fresh (unending!) supply of pristine garments — all looming overwhelmingly to wring order from chaos.

Michael Chitwood in Heat sums up such righteous labor with prophetic conciseness:

The crooked was made straight,
the wrinkled smooth …

And if you’re going to raise your young, then the stationary act of ironing does afford a platform and, likely, a rapt (or at least, captive) audience –

“If Old Scratch gets his claws
in your thigh or neck,
you burn a thousand years
and that is the first day.”

Her lessons are punctuated by the pounding iron. The sprinkled drops evaporate with a cautionary hiss. Which lasts longer — eternal damnation for the unwary or the household work of the always-weary?

The ‘rigid clothes’ and ‘matched seams’ eventually lie folded in neat piles or hanging in tidy rows. The smooth and cooling fabric lies in wait for a new day which brings its own temptations and challenges:

… Our bodies would ruin her work.

Wrinkles remain banished for just so long before appearing, once again, to signal our need for renewal.


Michael Chitwood, poet and author, is a lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina. His most recent collection of poetry — Poor-Mouth Jubilee (and its companion CD) — are published by Tupelo Press. “Heat” is a Library of Congress Poetry 180 poem.

(“Mrs. J. Webster ironing while her sons look on. Tehama County, California” 1940) // from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division // Russell Lee (1903-1986), photographer