The Sheets

From breezeway or through front porch screen

You'd see the sheets, wide blocks of white

Defined against a backdrop of

A field whose grasses were a green

       Intensity of light.


How fresh they looked there on the line,

Their laundered sweetness through the hours

Gathering richly in the air

While cumulus clouds gathered in

       Topheavily piled towers.


We children tightroped the low walls

Along the garden; bush and bough

And the washed sheets moved in the wind;

And thinking of this now recalls

       Vasari’s tale of how


Young Leonardo, charmed of sight,

Would buy in the loud marketplace

Caged birds and set them free—thus yielding

Back to the air which gave him light

       Lost beauty and lost grace.


So with the sheets: for as they drew

Clear warming sunlight from the sky,

They gave to light their rich, clean scent.

And when, the long day nearly through,

       My cousin Anne and I


Would take the sheets down from the line,

We'd fold in baskets their crisp heat,

Absorbing, as they had, the fine

Steady exchange of earth and sky,

       Material and sweet.


from Sapphics Against Anger and Other Poems, 1986