To the Person at the Zoom Poetry Reading, Unmuted, Doing Hand Laundry, June, 20, 2020/ poem by Suzanne Cleary


I hear you. Meaning not only that I hear water
circle and splash, the burp and swish of hands 
lowering and raising fabric 

at a sink within earshot of your computer.
I mean that I hear you. I hear your need
to stand and do something useful

on this spring afternoon thousands march
through the streets to protest the brutality, 
the racism, upon which this country was built, 

and builds. After months of quarantine, 
people sweating into their homemade masks
stand shoulder to shoulder. 

Two blocks from here, my neighbors stand 
in a park, all of them, I think, my street quiet, 
my house silent except for these poems, read 

from rooms that fit only partially
into the Zoom boxes. We are four poets, 
and maybe 50 others, leaning slightly forward, 

to listen. We all hear you, I think. 
I hear your need to rise, to turn a spigot
and make something clean.

One hundred years ago, hand laundry
was called smalls: slips and baby dresses, 
anything with even a sprig of embroidery. 

After washing the smalls—I think
there was no singular small—you’d place 
each one between towels, press to remove 

most of the water, then hang it to dry. 
Truth be told, the sound of water 
is not poor soundtrack for a poetry reading, 

for the sound of water is the sound 
of time, of suspension and transport.
Water is the source of life. 

In fact, today’s reading was scheduled 
pre-pandemic, for early March, for a bar 
raucous with ice machine and seltzer,

two blocks from Union Square.  
We’d have had to shout to be heard, 
happy as we’d have been to be together. 

But, I ask you, was this the right time 
to have been doing your laundry, as we read, 
listened to even the spaces between words? 

Perhaps. Perhaps it was the perfect time. 
But you might better have pressed Mute,
as had the countless others who listened,

their hands open and soft under the water,
their sleeves pushed up, as for the other work 
we all must do together.


Suzanne Cleary’s most recent poetry books are Crude Angel, published in 2018 by BkMk Press (U of Missouri-Kansas City), and Beauty Mark (BkMk Press 2013), selected by Kevin Prufer for the John Ciardi Prize. Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, Suzanne’s other awards include the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, the Troubadour International Poetry Prize (2nd Prize), and fellowships from MacDowell and Yaddo. Her poems appear on PBS and in anthologies including Best American Poetry, journals including New Ohio Review and Poetry London. She is Core Faculty in the MFA in Creative Writing Program of Converse College. She was one of one of four finalists for 2021 THE MOTH Poetry Prize . Her website is 

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