Reading through Angela Narciso Torres’s poetry collection Blood Orange, I was moved again and again by the way moments of attention and detail are hinged in such way to the line as to create a visceral reaction, a blur of image and meaning that shifts the act of reading poetry beyond merely running eyes over text.
In this week’s poem, “Ironing Woman,” the memory of being with someone as they work is delivered in rich, physical detail. What makes the details sing is how the poet handles the pacing throughout. There is a move repeated between stanza breaks, for example, that is later followed through the poem’s final image. The broken sentence at the end of the first stanza delivers its wisdom via white space and suspense; white space enters again between the second and third stanza to let the word “Slowly” linger in the reader’s mind so that the movement between the image before and the image after carry significant weight and presence. This movement of presence and resonance comes to a stunning flourish in the final image, which moves from the interior of the room to an image of ” a gull’s shadow / over the surging sea.”
This final image of shadow tied strictly to the sea mirrors the ironing woman’s stare and delivers the reality of how work ties itself to who we are, whether through physical or psychic memory.
Ironing Woman – Angela Narciso Torres
Afternoons I’d lie on her woven mat
of lemongrass and burnt leaves,
listening to tales of spurned love
on her bright-yellow transistor radio.
From her I learned what the old wives knew —
never to wash after ironing. Propelling
the gleaming prow across the ripples
of my father’s shirt, she’d tell how the iron
gnarled her wrists, once smooth as bamboo.
How the steaming metal twisted
her veins, brought on “the shakes.”
When I saw the serpentine rivers
on her arms, I knew this was true. Slowly
she’d raise both hands to show how
they trembled like maidenhair ferns
before a storm. Turning to her work,
her eyes reclaimed their stare
as though tracing a gull’s shadow
over the surging sea.